Excerpt: Ultimate Prey

Book 3: Ultimate CORE Trilogy

Excerpt: Ultimate Prey Book Cover


If you lose a big fight, it will worry you all of your life.
It will plague you—until you get your revenge.
—Muhammad Ali


Inmate K11477 tensed his body as Aaron Moody’s rough command made his stomach sick and his skin crawl with disgust. His hand tingled with the urge to clench it into a fist and smash Moody in the throat. He’d like to do more than that and had often lain in his cell fantasizing about mutilating the man’s penis, or using a broomstick to show Moody that he was nobody’s bitch.

Knowing what was to come—the pain, the degradation, the unfathomable sense of powerlessness—had bile rising in his throat. But he wouldn’t bother fighting Moody today, not with his release scheduled for later this week. As much as he’d love to snap the man’s neck, killing Moody wasn’t worth adding to his time.

He needed out of this shithole.

He needed to make the little prick who’d put him here suffer.

Slowly, he turned, glanced from Moody to the two men who had always traveled with the bastard, then to the laundry room exit. The prison guard standing at the door made eye contact with him.

“Make it quick,” the guard said, then turned his back.

Fucker. Moody had a couple of guards in his pocket. Unfortunately this bastard was one of them.

“You heard the man,” Moody said, with a snarl and grabbed the crotch of his light blue uniform. “No time for foreplay. Get on your knees.”

When he didn’t obey, Moody nodded to his men, who took turns punching him in the stomach. Gasping for breath, fighting the pain, he involuntarily fell to his knees.

Moody knocked his head with the back of his hand. “I can’t believe you’re leaving us,” he said, pulling out his penis. “It won’t be the same without you. Come on, open wide.”

When he still didn’t obey, Moody punched him in the head. He thought about just letting Moody and his men beat the shit out of him to the point he’d be knocked unconscious, but for what he had planned upon release, he needed to be healthy, not broken and brain-damaged.

“Hurry up and do it,” Moody demanded.

Ignoring the man’s erection, he looked Moody in the eyes. “If we were on the outside, you would have been dead the moment you first tried touching me.”

Moody grinned. “All these years and that’s the first time you’ve said anything outside of ‘Fuck you’ or ‘Get off me’. I think I prefer it better that way. So why don’t you shut up and—”

“Do you know how many men I’ve killed?”

Moody’s smile fell. “Word is you only killed one, and it was an accident. If you’re trying to be scary now, it’s not working. Now open—”

“I’ve killed close to forty people,” he said, wishing he could make it forty-one. He glanced to the two other men and the guard. Forty-four.

Moody snorted. “Bullshit.”

He knew Moody was also here for murder, but the bastard had no clue who he’d been screwing with all these years. He had killed close to forty people, maybe more. He’d hunted them, stalked them, then had done the world a favor and had ended their lives.

“I’ve slit throats, put bullets in heads. Ever smell a burning body?” he asked, remembering the night he’d set fire to one of the wooden homes in the Iraqi village he’d attacked. It had burst into flames, and had sent women and children, their clothes ablaze, running into the street. “At first, it’ll make you think of grilling a side of fatty beef, but then the smell turns coppery. If you stick around long enough, as the organs start to fry, you’ll be thinking there’s liver burning in the frying pan.”

“Liar. Shut up and suck.”

“How much time do you have left?”

“I swear if you don’t—”

“Five years is what I heard. If I were you, I’d kill me now,” he taunted, knowing the man wouldn’t kill him and face having more time added to his fifteen-year prison sentence. “Because the day you’re released, I’m coming for you. I’ll use my Browning and put a couple of holes in you.” He glanced to Moody’s deflated penis. “Maybe in your small prick and tiny testicles. Then I’ll cut you. You should see the machete I have at home. She’s pretty. But I wouldn’t kill you right away. No. When I’m done making you bleed, I’m going to pour gasoline over your sorry ass and set you on fire. Watch you burn and scream and—”

Moody punched him. Blood spurted from his nose and onto Moody’s clothes and bared flesh. “Flip him around and pull off his pants,” he told his men. “I want him to bend over and take it.”

The two men lifted him by the armpits, then turned him away from the exit. They shoved his pants down and his face to the floor. One of them kept his foot on his head to keep him still, while Moody proceeded to rape him.

He fought against the pain. He cleared his mind and imagined how he would make Moody pay for his sins. And the little prick who’d sent him to this Hell.

If it hadn’t been for him, if only the prick had done the right thing, he wouldn’t have had to endure the rapes and beatings. He wouldn’t have lost his wife and children, could’ve attended his father’s funeral… He couldn’t think about his dad. Not when he was being degraded and abused.

The rage, the shame, the need to kill rushed through him, but he kept it locked down. Blood dripped from his nose and into his mouth. He tasted freedom and vengeance.

He closed his eyes and imagined the wooden butt of his rifle in his hands. His finger wrapped around the cool trigger, his target in the lines of his scope. Saw his prey, saw the righteous man who had betrayed him and left him to rot in prison running scared. And the arrogant prick would be running scared and for his life very soon. He would see to it. He would make him suffer and make it clear…

Nobody fucked with him. Ever


There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those
who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it,
never care for anything else thereafter.

—Ernest Hemingway

Chapter 1

Two months later… 
Everglade City, Florida 
Thursday, 12:22 a.m. Eastern Standard Time


“DID YOU HEAR that?”

Ian Scott curled his fiancée’s tensed body closer and drew the comforter over them. “Probably just the palm fronds from the tree near the window scraping against the siding.” He smothered a yawn with his free hand. “What’s going on with you? You’ve been on edge ever since we pulled into the driveway.”

Cami reached behind her and turned on the lamp sitting on the nightstand. He winced when the light hit his tired eyes. “Maybe we should have stayed in Chicago,” she said, relaxing against him, and running her hands through his graying chest hairs. “I think it’s selfish of us to spend Thanksgiving away from our families.”

She hadn’t thought so last week when he’d booked the trip, or even this afternoon when they had been boarding his company jet. “You said you wanted to get away.”

Tossing her white-blonde hair over her shoulder, Cami raised herself up on her elbow and faced him. “That’s when I thought we were going to a beach resort,” she said, her bright blue eyes filling with apology.

He ran a hand along her bare hip. “It was twenty-two degrees and snowing when we left Chicago, and eighty when we landed in Florida. If you don’t want to stay, I’ll take you back home.” He squeezed her hip. “Or, maybe you could give this place a chance? We might not be on the beach, but we’re only twenty minutes from the nearest one. I’ll take you tomorrow.”

She leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. “I’d like that.”

“But?” he prompted when he saw the hesitation in her eyes.

“We’ll still be staying here.”

“You don’t like the house I rented?” The last time he took a vacation, he’d secluded himself at this house and had loved every minute. Nestled near clusters of palm trees, but only one hundred yards from the Everglades’ eerily beautiful marshes, he’d enjoyed clocking out and going off the grid for a few days. The reception here was hit or miss, which meant limited phone calls. The place had Wi-Fi, but he’d spent the weekend avoiding emails and instead, had a great time connecting with nature. Because he’d loved the area so much, he had wanted to share it with Cami. Only his California girl obviously preferred to be closer to civilization…and the beach.

“The house is beautiful. But I was envisioning strolling on boardwalks, shopping, going to dinner—not worrying about alligators, venomous snakes and bugs. Not to sound ungrateful, but a swamp isn’t an ideal setting for a romantic getaway.” Her eyes widened and she tensed. “There’s that noise again.”

He hadn’t heard anything the first time, but he had now. And it sounded just like what he’d originally suspected. Palm fronds scraping the siding. “I told you it’s nothing. The wind has kicked up, that’s all.”

She looked over her shoulder toward the windows decorated with white plantation shutters. “Maybe you should go see for sure. What if it’s a gator trying to break in?”

“Maybe you should stop being paranoid,” he said with a chuckle. “And we’re not in a swamp, we’re in the Everglades. It’s one of my favorite places, which is why I brought you here.”

She faced him. “I’m sorry. I really do sound ungrateful. It’s just this place reminds me of when I was filming Evil that Lurks.”

“Which one?” Cami had started her acting career at eighteen, playing the terrified, screaming heroine of the low budget horror film, Evil that Lurks, which had wound up being a cult classic. The film had eventually spun off numerous others. Evil that Lurks in ParadiseEvil that Lurks in the SewersEvil that Lurks in the Woods were only a few that came to mind, and Cami always starred in the lead role.

Evil that Lurks in the Swamp, of course.”

He grinned as the memory of the film played out in his head… Cami, wearing next to nothing and screaming her head off as a machete-wielding, crazed madman rose from the murky water to attack her. The shame of it was that Cami was an excellent actress. Unfortunately she’d spent her late teens and twenties playing the role of the damsel in distress in so many horror flicks, she couldn’t find a film director to take her seriously enough after that to offer her a role where she could show off her acting skills.

“Of course,” he said. “So you’re telling me that this three thousand square foot home we’re renting, a home that has every modern amenity imaginable, a beautiful landscaped yard and is only a twenty minute drive to the Gulf, reminds you of a horror movie?”

She gave his bicep a light pinch. “Hardly. I told you I love the house. But I wish we could pick it up and move it directly on the beach. I don’t do gators and snakes. When we were on location in Louisiana for Evil that Lurks in the Swamp, we had to sleep in campers that didn’t have bathrooms. I practically dehydrated myself because I was afraid to go in the woods to pee.”

Laughing, he shook his head.

“Sorry, a little too much TMI, huh?”

“No,” he said, still laughing. “You’re good.”

“Well, anyway, I think that maybe if we’d arrived while it was still early enough to explore the area I might feel better about where you’ve brought me. You said we’re in the Everglades, so that makes me think we’re practically surrounded by water.”

In a way, they were. They were in a region known as The Ten Thousand Islands, which were a chain of islands and mangrove islets off the coast of southwest Florida. Most of the islands were uninhabited, and the house he’d rented for them was on the mainland near Everglade City, but they were definitely off the beaten path. Their nearest neighbor was at least a half mile away, and a walk in the wrong direction could have them ankle deep in the sawgrass marshes that covered the majority of the area.

“Since we have bathrooms, there’s no need for you to dehydrate yourself or venture off into the swamp,” he said with a grin. “Instead of comparing our vacation getaway to a horror movie, we’ll head out in the morning and do a little exploring. I really think you’re going to love it here. We’ll go on an airboat tour and—”

“Hold on. Are airboats the kind of boat with the big fan on the back?”

“I take it they didn’t use airboats in Evil that Lurks in the Swamp?”

She rolled her eyes. “The producers couldn’t afford a Porta Potti. But I’ll take that as a yes.” She scrunched her brow. “Sorry, but we’ll have to pick up some Dramamine before we go on any kind of boating excursion. I get seasick.” Her dark blond brows furrowed even more. “What’s weird is that my daughter inherited my boating issues.”

“You really think seasickness can be passed down through genetics?”

“I know it is. When she was seven, the poor thing threw up the entire time we were on the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland. As far as I know, she hasn’t been on a boat since.”

“So cruises are out?” he asked, tracing a finger along the swell of her breast. At forty-nine, Cami still had a figure of a woman in her early thirties. But her body wasn’t the only thing he loved about her. She had a great sense of humor, said what she thought without apology and was free-spirited. He, on the other hand, wasn’t funny, picked and chose his words carefully and was a slave to convention. Yet somehow they worked together, and eventually she would be his wife.

No more coming home to an empty home. No more lonely nights.

Yeah, life was good.

“Cruises are definitely—” She gripped his bicep. “What was that?”

Still focused on her soft skin and now thinking about what she was hiding beneath the sheets, he said, “I didn’t hear—”

He froze. His skin crawled with unease. Metal clanked against metal from somewhere. Inside or outside? Unsure, he looked to the closed shutters, gave Cami a quick, reassuring kiss, then climbed out of the bed. After pulling on the pair of jeans he’d worn during the trip down to Florida, he quickly moved to the window, then eased open one wood slat. The front lights, which he knew had motion sensors from his last trip here, flooded the small yard.

He looked to the left where he thought the sound had come from. When he saw nothing, he looked to the right, then quickly released the slat and jerked back. Heart pounding hard, he did his best to keep his concern in check. Cami was already apprehensive about staying at the house.

She has you spooked.

Right. The shadow he thought he saw could have been from a tree or a raccoon, maybe even a wild boar.

When he lifted the slat again, he saw nothing. But that didn’t slow his heart rate or ease his worries. He also knew Cami wouldn’t sleep well tonight if he didn’t find out the cause of the noise. Maybe the raccoons had flipped the trashcans while foraging for scraps. Were those even metal? Damn, he couldn’t remember.

“Did you see anything?” Cami asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“No. But it’s probably raccoons. I’ll go check it out.”

“I’ll go with you.”

He turned and hoped his irritation didn’t show. They should still be lying in bed naked and on the verge of sleep. Instead, she’d slipped into a pair of cream-colored satiny-looking lounge pants, along with a matching camisole and robe. “How did you get dressed so fast?” he asked.

“When you’re doing theater, there’s not a lot of time between scenes and I can’t keep my audience waiting,” she said with haughty, dramatic flair, then laughed.

He chuckled. “Never,” he said, pulling her close. Cami didn’t have an arrogant bone in her body, and despite the rave reviews she’d received, she tended to joke and down play her recent success. Probably because Hollywood hadn’t been kind to her in the past, and her peers had tended to look down on the roles she’d played in the campy Evil that Lurks films. “That first night I saw you perform on stage, I—”

The lights flickered, then went out. She gripped his arms. “Oh, my God. Ian, I—”

“Shh. Hang on.” When he didn’t hear anything, he reached for her hand and guided her through the blackened room. Once he retrieved his cell phone from the nightstand, he put on the flashlight feature. “Let’s head downstairs. The owner has battery-powered lanterns for emergency situations in the kitchen.”

She jerked his hand, halting him. “Do you think this is an emergency?”

“No. Could be a power outage.”

“But the noises—”

“Coincidence,” he said, but used the flashlight to find the Glock he’d brought with him. Other than the firing range, he hadn’t been in a situation where he’d been forced to use the weapon in nearly nine years. He doubted he’d need it now, but the former FBI agent in him didn’t believe in coincidences. Not after what he’d witnessed with the Bureau, or what his CORE agents dealt with on a regular basis.

“Do you think you really need that?” she asked, gripping his arm hard. “Never mind, bring the gun, and if you have another, maybe you should give it to me.”

Hell, no. He had a .45 stowed in his other bag, but there was no way he’d let Cami have it. Just because she’d held a replica during one of her films, didn’t mean she could actually shoot the damned thing. “This is the only weapon I have,” he lied, and was tempted to tell her to stay put. Although he didn’t think they were dealing with anything more than a couple of pesky raccoons, or possibly a panther, he didn’t like the idea of her being on the second floor alone should he be wrong. “I told you, it’s probably nothing. Stay behind me, we’ll check things out downstairs and probably be back in bed in a few minutes.”

The glow from his cell phone touched along the worry lines creasing her forehead. “Can we at least stop in the kitchen? I saw a set of knives on the counter. In Evil that Lurks in the Sewer, I used a knife to—”

He silenced her with a kiss. “No knives. I probably don’t need my gun. I’m just being cautious and tomorrow morning we’re going to laugh about a family of raccoons stalking us.”

She grinned. “I was up against mutant animals in one of my films and kicked their furry butts. I can handle a family of raccoons.”

“That’s my girl.” He gave her another kiss, then led her toward the door. “Stay behind.”

Cami hooked her fingers through one of the empty belt loops on his jeans. “I have no intention of letting go,” she whispered, her warm breath brushing his bare back. “If we get the power back on, maybe I’ll make us something to eat.”

Food would be good. Cami back in his bed would be better. But first he needed to find out the cause of the noises and turn the power back on, hopefully without having to call the electric company or the owner of the rental. That would be a pain in the ass and not how he wanted to start their vacation.

When they reached the bottom step, he moved the cell phone, sweeping the light between the entrance to the kitchen and the hallway leading to the foyer. Without power, the house had been plunged into darkness, and the phone was about as good as carrying around a lit match in the rain. Needing a battery-powered lantern, he led Cami into the kitchen and checked the pantry. “Damn it. I swear there were lanterns in here. Come on.” Without another word, he took her down the hall toward the foyer. Once they reached the door, he checked the locks. Secured. From there, he inspected the den, then moved them into the large living room. The small beam of light emanating from his phone barely touched on the closed windows, then the TV and furniture. Nothing appeared disturbed or out of place.

He glanced over his shoulder. “The electrical box is in the laundry room off the kitchen,” he said, keeping his tone quiet. “Let’s head into—”

A sudden burst of orange-red flashed from the kitchen. Cami tugged at his belt loop and dug her nails into his side. “There’s someone in the house,” she gasped.

He quickly shoved the cell phone in his back pocket, turned, grabbed the back of her head, then put his mouth near her ear. “Hide in the coat closet,” he whispered. “There’s a phone in the kitchen for emergencies. I’ll call—”

She shook her head. “No. Let’s just get the hell out of here.” Her nails bit into his flesh. “Please,” she begged.

He looked over her head toward the front door. The keys to the SUV they’d rented were upstairs in the bedroom. They’d have to trek half of a mile to the nearest neighbor to call the police, and he wasn’t sure if there was anyone in residence at that neighboring house. Which meant they could end up walking for several miles. He glanced to what she was wearing. Her slippers reminded him of something a ballet dancer would wear. They weren’t ideal for the terrain they would face, but at least she had something on her feet. He, on the other hand, had been more concerned about arming himself than shoes or even a shirt. But she was right. He didn’t know who was in the house or their objective, and had no plans of finding out—not when he had Cami’s safety to consider.

Damn if he didn’t want those car keys, though.

Common sense had him hauling her toward the door. “Go,” he whispered, unlocking the deadbolt, then twisting the knob.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, her voice rushed and filled with fear. “Open it.”

He rattled the handle. “Won’t open.” How could this be? The door swung inside, not out. Unless someone secured the door from outside to keep them…trapped. Although the house was large, claustrophobia set in. He grabbed her wrist. “The window—”

She pulled back. “The front windows don’t open, remember?”

He did now. Earlier, Cami had tried opening the windows in the den and on one side of the living room to let the afternoon breeze air out the house. But the ones on the other side by the dining room did open, only that would put them near the kitchen, and without knowing who was in the house, or where they were hiding, he wasn’t sure he wanted to take the risk. Then again, other than smashing the windows, what choice did they have?

“Back door,” he said.

She held her ground and stared at the decorative mirror hanging on the dining room wall opposite to the kitchen entrance, her eyes growing wide and filling with terror. He followed her gaze and caught his breath. A giant man, dressed in all black and wearing a ski mask stood in the kitchen, the orange-red glow of the flare silhouetting him. The man gave a single nod, then rushed from the room, his heavy footsteps pounding along the hardwood floor in the hallway.

“Go.” Ian pulled Cami across the living room, into the dining room and toward the kitchen. On the tile floor, the flare sizzled and burned. Smoke and the strong smell of sulfur hung in the air. “Try the back door,” he ordered, keeping his gun raised and his body in front of hers.

“It won’t open,” she said, her tone panicked as she jiggled the doorknob. “I can’t get it to—”

Another flare burst from the living room. “Move,” he said, covered her head with his chest, then slammed the butt of the Glock against the door’s window.

“There’s no escape,” a deep voice cut through the hiss of the flares and shattering glass. “Ready or not, here I come.”

“He’s coming,” Cami whispered in Ian’s ear. When her warm tears wet his cheek, he looked to her. The horror in her eyes had him thinking of the many ways he wanted to kill the man who had invaded their home. He had a gun. He could put a bullet in the bastard’s head. But first, he needed Cami safe.

The man’s heavy footfalls grew louder, closer. Not sure if he could break them out through the back door in time, Ian hurried her through the kitchen, saw the house phone had been ripped from the wall, then quickly pushed her into the laundry room and locked the door. Other than the glow from the kitchen shining from beneath the closed door, the room was pitch black. Ignoring the way the smoke had stung his eyes, he turned on the phone’s flashlight again, then aimed it to the window. The opening wasn’t large, and he doubted he could fit through it, but Cami could. “Here,” he said, handing her his phone. “You’re going to get out of here and run to the neighbor’s house.”

She looked to the small window he’d opened, then to the cell phone. “Do you think I’ll pick up a signal once I’m outside?” she asked, rubbing her eyes. “Ian, I have no idea where I am or how to even find the neighbor. What if I run into an alligator or—”

“Better than what’s in the house. Just keep to the edge of the driveway and in the shadows. Turn left when you hit the road we drove in on, and run. You’ll see a mailbox at the end of the next driveway.”

“What if he’s not alone? What if there’s someone outside waiting for us?”

But what if there wasn’t? He didn’t want to risk her life by keeping her in the house. He also didn’t want to send her into the unknown where he wouldn’t be there to protect her. Now he wished he’d have brought the other gun with them. He couldn’t second-guess himself, though. Not with—

“Knock, knock.” A soft wrap hit the laundry room door. “Anyone home?”

Cami’s breath came in short, shallow spurts as she backed into the washing machine. Ian stepped in front of her, then looked over his shoulder. “You have to get out of here and call for help.”

Still staring at the closed door, she nodded, then wiped the tears from her eyes. “Okay, I’ll go,” she said on a quiet sob, then kissed him. “I love you.”

“I love you, too. Now go.”

He set his gun on the washer, then grabbed her by the waist and lifted her.

The intruder slammed on the door, which knocked a picture frame off the wall. “You’re not trying to run are you?” He battered the door again, splintering the wood doorframe. “That’s no way to treat a guest in your house.”

“He’s going to kick it in,” Cami cried, squirming free of Ian’s grip, then hiding behind him.

Knowing she was right, he retrieved the Glock, made sure it was ready to fire, then aimed it at the door. Sweat coated his chest and back. Fear and adrenaline made his heart pound hard. He hadn’t killed a man in nearly nine years, but would kill this one before he let the bastard do anything to Cami.

The man grunted when he hit the door. “You’re making this harder on yourself,” he shouted, and slammed the door again. “And really starting to piss me off. Now I might have to have fun with your pretty little actress. She was great in those shitty movies, but now I want to make her scream.”

“This is because of me?” she whispered. “Oh, my God, Ian, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know…didn’t think…”

“You know who this is?” Whoever was on the opposite side of the door knew Cami. If they were dealing with a deranged fan…he didn’t want to even consider what the bastard might do to her.

“No idea. I’m sorry,” she repeated. “If anything happens to you because of me—”

The man hit door again, and Ian worried the next blow would knock it off its hinges. Seconds ticked by. Other than Cami’s shallow breathing and the insects chirping from outside, the house had grown eerily silent. Could the man have gone outside? Ian glanced to the opened window expecting for him to be there. When he saw nothing, he quickly shut and locked it. Aside from the windows, there was one other exit, and that was in the small guest bedroom upstairs where a deck and steps led to the backyard. If they could find a way to—

“Where is he?” Cami asked, pressing closer to his back.

“I’m still here, lover,” the man said, then scraped something along the door.

Dread crawled along Ian’s skin and he quickly took aim again.

“Since you’re anxious to be with me, and I have a meeting planned, playtime is officially over.”

A meeting? Did this mean he wasn’t working alone? Ian reached behind and gave Cami a reassuring squeeze, then whispered, “Be strong and stay behind me.”

“I will. Ian, I—”

The door bounced off the wall with powerful force. Cami cried out just as a bright light blinded Ian. Without hesitation, he fired five quick shots, hoping to God a couple of them hit the bastard. The high-beam flashlight thudded to the floor and rolled. The man staggered back, hit the wall, then slowly slid down.

Dragging in deep breaths, Ian inhaled the strong scent of gunpowder and sulfur, then slowly approached the man. The red-orange glow from the kitchen hadn’t dimmed and cast eerie shadows throughout the hall. He couldn’t tell where he’d shot the man, but considered putting a bullet in his head for good measure. He nudged the intruder’s black boot with the heel of his bare foot first, which elicited no reaction. Heart still pounding hard, his stomach filling with an odd mixture of triumph and dread, he took another step.

“Is he dead?” Cami asked, breathless and maybe a little hopeful.

“Go upstairs to the guest room with the deck and lock yourself inside,” he answered instead. What they’d experienced was bad enough, and he wanted to shelter Cami from any more horror tonight.

She touched his back as she edged out of the laundry room.

“Don’t open the door unless it’s me or the police,” he added.

“And if it’s not you?”

The fear in her voice had him turning his head toward her. Shadows and smoke caused by the flare played across her face and intensified the apprehension in her eyes. “Run.”

“No one’s running from me.”

He saw movement in his peripheral vision and pulled the trigger. “Run,” he shouted, as the intruder shifted his body and raised his arm.

Ian fired another shot, then stilled. Every muscle in his body cramped tighter and tighter until he couldn’t hold the gun, let alone himself, up anymore. He dropped to his knees with a painful thud, then fell forward. The Glock was kicked from his hand as his body jerked against the cool, tile floor. He saw Cami’s ballet-slippered feet move, watched helplessly as the ski-masked intruder stood, still aiming the Taser on him. Tried to tell her to get out, but couldn’t make his mouth work.

“Nobody fucks with me.”

Ian shifted his eyes. The intruder raised his boot. “Nobody,” the man finished, then everything went black.