It's here! Today is the day all my faithful friends and followers get a look at the cover for my fourth novel, Two Evils! I started out writing this book with the intention of making it a spy thriller, but it turned out to be more of an action-adventure with a romantic twist. Here is the book description:
Wilhelmina “Billie” Ryan was a Marine Corps sniper with SpecOps training. When her six-year tour of duty came to an end she was recruited by the CIA, where she applied her knowledge of warfare tactics to the shadowy world of international espionage. But not even a tough as nails former soldier-turned-spy known as the She-Devil was immune to heartbreak: A gangbanger’s bullet took the life of her fiancé in a drive-by shooting where someone else was the target, and she was so devastated by the loss that she simply fled—leaving behind her job, her friends, and even her family.
A year later, operations officer John Courtney is tasked with finding Billie and bringing her home. Three members of her former Force Recon unit have gone missing, and she’s quite possibly the only person who can find them. When he does locate her, she’s living under an assumed name and tending bar on the beach with an old acquaintance from her early days in the CIA…and before he can explain why he’s there, the two are forced to flee for their lives when the Russian mafia makes it known that they’re after Billie too.
Back home, Billie struggles to reconnect with her family on top of finding out what really happened to her former teammates. She and John are also fighting the attraction growing between them, which he is more than willing to pursue but for which she’s not even sure she’s ready. Giving in to her burgeoning feelings for her fellow spy means taking the risk of getting hurt again, not to mention she doesn't believe she’s fully over her grief for the man she loved and lost. Matters are further complicated when it seems a high-ranking Pentagon official is not being entirely truthful, and may in fact be involved in something highly illegal.
Hired guns and a mystery with no leads make for one hell of a welcome home. When painful memories threaten to cripple her ability to keep a clear head, will Billie remember her strength in time to save the lives of everyone she loves—as well as her own?
And now...the cover!
Oh, and one more thing... that secret surprise I promised you is the FIRST FULL CHAPTER of the book! Read and enjoy—and leave a comment with your thoughts if you like!
One look and she knew trouble had just walked in.
Trouble with a capital T.
Billie smothered a groan, not that she could have heard herself given the noise level in the bar, and continued to fill drink orders as if nothing was wrong.
Sergei sidled up to her as she was mixing a cosmopolitan for a blonde in a bikini, who was tapping too-long acrylic nails on the bar’s lacquered counter. “What do you think, FBI? CIA? NSA maybe?” he said casually as he began to blend ice for another order.
“So you saw him too?” she countered, spinning effortlessly toward the blonde and passing the drink over, then heading toward the register to add the drink to the woman’s tab.
It was several minutes before she and Sergei—and Marty, the third person they had on staff—were blessed with a lull in the demand for alcohol. Billie stood next to her friend at the sink, washing glasses and handing them over to him to be dried.
“As if anyone could miss him with that shirt on,” the Russian said with a snort, his English perfect but still slightly accented. “It is atrocious, even for Flamingo Bay.”
Billie chuckled. The man she’d seen was wearing a ridiculously loud Hawaiian shirt, royal blue with bright green palm leaves and brown coconuts. Such attire was fairly common in Caribbean climates such as the Virgin Islands, so it wasn’t really the shirt that made him stand out. It was the way he carried himself, the way he had stopped just inside the door and checked out every visible inch of the bar before coming further inside.
It was the way his gaze had zeroed in on her, as if sizing her up rather than undressing her with his eyes as most of the male patrons of the Crabana had a tendency to do. In the latter instance, it took only a hard stare back for the men to realize she was not going to play their game. The blue-shirted fed had responded to her patented “not interested” expression by nodding his head once, smiling slightly, and then walking into the crowd as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
Silly boy, she’d thought. They don’t call me She-Devil for nothing.
Billie sighed as Sergei asked her, “You want me to take him out back?”
She glanced up with one eyebrow raised. The Crabana was a tiki bar on the beach with three open sides—they had no “out back”. The suggestion, she knew, was Sergei’s way of asking her if she wanted the suspected agent beaten up somewhere out of sight to discourage him from whatever he was here for.
She shook her head. “Nyet. I think I can handle one little federal agent, Sergei.”
Sergei shrugged. “You’re the boss.”
Billie only grinned as he walked away to the demand for more beer at the end of the bar. A sidelong glance in the opposite direction told her that the subject of their conversation was chugging down the last of the beer Marty had gotten him. Perfect timing, she mused, for her to do a little fishing. Heading down to the corner stool he occupied, she slapped on a bright smile and said, “Can I get you another?”
The man, who appeared to be early 30s and wore a buzz cut with his bad shirt, flashed a smile as he set his empty Budweiser bottle on the counter. “Sure, why not?”
Billie moved to retrieve another cold brew from the cooler, popping the top off and setting it on a fresh paper coaster. “Here you go, stranger.”
He picked up the bottle and tipped it toward her. “Why do I have to be a stranger?” he asked casually before putting the bottle to his lips for a drink.
“Because I’ve never seen you in here before, that’s why,” she replied smoothly. “And given your horrible taste in shirts, I’d say this is your first tropical vacation.”
The man chuckled. “I’ve been further south than this,” he told her. “The shirt I blame on my buddy Rex, who said I couldn’t possibly stand out in the tropics with a Hawaiian shirt on. Remind me to kick his ass when I get home.”
“You should, because your buddy Rex lied to your face.”
She moved away then to take care of other customers, but she could feel the man’s eyes on her, watching her. Billie smiled and chatted with most everyone, serving mixed drinks, bottled beers, and wine coolers for several minutes, before eventually drifting back his way. Sergei passed her as she moved back and gave her a wink.
Crossing her arms on the edge, she leaned against the bar, pressing her breasts into her arms and purposely showing more cleavage over the scooped neck of her tank top than was necessary just to see if his eyes wandered—which they did. Typical, she thought derisively, though outwardly she smiled and asked, “So what brings you to St. Thomas, stranger? Surely you’re not vacationing by yourself.”
“Call me Court. And I’m actually here on business. Not supposed to be meeting my associate until tomorrow, so I figured why not enjoy myself tonight?”
If he was here for her, then ol’ Court had come here not to enjoy himself but to check her out, getting a feel for her before he made his official approach. Well, whatever the fuck he was selling, she wasn’t buying. She’d washed her hands of that business a year ago.
“Court, eh? That’s an interesting name,” Billie said, playing along. “Court” was either an alias or it was short for something. If the latter, then he was using a genuine nickname in order to appear as a friend, which he most definitely was not. She didn’t have any of those kinds of friends anymore. Either that, or he was new and had just made a classic rookie mistake, as no one in the spy game used their real name.
Except for James Bond.
“You’re not from one of those fancy-pants, old money families where boys are given girls’ names, are you? Because I gotta tell you, that would suck,” Billie said lightly.
Court took another swig of the beer and shook his head, smiling. “No, I am definitely not from one of those. My family is blue-collar all the way.”
Billie stood back, cocking a hip and placing a hand there while she left the other on the edge of the bar, tapping her fingers much as the bikini-clad blonde had done. “I like blue-collar over old money,” she said casually. “Means you know what hard work is.”
He nodded. “That I most definitely understand.”
“So what about this business meeting you have tomorrow?” she asked, determined to find out what the hell it was that he wanted—whether it be her, Sergei, or someone else entirely. “Are you thinking it’s going to be hard work? Is that why you’re here trying to relax the night before?”
Court chuckled. “Something like that. I’ve heard that the person I’m meeting can be a hard case, and that it will take a lot of finesse to reach an agreement.”
Oh, that was smooth, Billie noted. His entire response was calculated to reveal only what he wanted her to know about his contact, which was really nothing at all. Being called a “hard case” could apply to just about anybody. There was nothing to indicate the gender of his contact or the specifics of the mission—though based on what he had said, one could reasonably surmise that he expected to have a hard time selling his point.
Well, if indeed she was a part of whatever reason he was here, a hard time was what he was going to get. She had no intention of leaving Water Island. She was done, and the CIA knew it.
Off and on throughout the next few hours she would chat with Court, even flirt a little, to try and glean more information. Billie wasn’t able to get anything else out of him, which told her that he probably wasn’t a rookie after all—just an idiot. He either hadn’t read her file or had chosen to ignore the more salient points contained therein. Her own reputation as a hard case was well earned, after all, as was the nickname she had been branded with, She-Devil. He must also be wagering—incorrectly, she might add—that she didn’t have any weapons concealed in the bar, because there were several.
He had yet to give her a reason to use one, but she wouldn’t hesitate if she felt threatened, whether he was an American federal agent or not. There was always the slight chance that he was from a foreign intelligence agency, but that, too, was neither here nor there.
As the night wore on, Court stayed on his corner bar stool, leaving only once—whether to find a bathroom or check in with his supervisor was anyone’s guess. When he stood to leave, he’d flashed a smile at Billie and asked her to hold his seat for him, saying only that he would be back in a few minutes.
Sergei asked her if she wanted him to tail the guy. Billie chuckled for the umpteenth time that night and shook her head. In spite of the unwelcome appearance of Court and her lack of knowledge as to why he was here, she was actually having fun. Although she had given up the spy game a year ago when Travis died, it was amusing to slip into that old skin again, even if only fractionally, and play along like she was oblivious as to who Court really was.
In truth, he’d piqued her curiosity. She’d been left alone by the agency, as requested, for a year. No one had called. No one had tried to find her. And though she had hardly been hiding, she didn’t think anyone knew where she was. Instinct and training had told her even then that she wouldn’t be left alone forever, that eventually the past would come knocking on her door. But just because she didn’t want anything to do with Court or whatever case he was here to drag her into didn’t mean she didn’t want to know what she was saying no to.
Court was still nursing his fifth Budweiser when the last of the customers were filing out. Marty and Sergei had already pulled the shutters down all around the bar, closing them off from the late-night breeze coming off of Flamingo Bay. Having suspected he might pull such a stunt, Billie had prepared ahead of time—she was just waiting for the opportunity to put her plan in motion.
Marty stepped behind the bar after closing the door behind an obviously drunk man wearing board shorts and nothing else and nodded toward Court, who was pretending not to pay them any attention.
“You want me to run him out?” Marty asked.
Billie glanced over her shoulder. “No, you go on home. Sergei and I will get rid of him.”
“All right then. See you tomorrow.”
Billie nodded and offered Marty a smile, then watched as he walked across the bar and out the door. Out of the corner of her eye she noted Court tracking Sergei’s movements behind him, though it was with a casual glance over his shoulder. She flung the damp towel with which she’d been drying glasses over her shoulder and turned toward him.
“It’s closing time, Court,” she said lightly, giving Sergei the pre-arranged signal. The Russian swung the butt of a pistol at the back of the other man’s head. Court had little time to react and slumped over the bar unconscious, spilling the last of his beer.
“He moved, so I didn’t hit him as hard as I normally would have,” said Sergei as he shoved the Sig Sauer SP2022 in the waistband of his Bermuda shorts and reached over to lift Court off his bar stool.
Billie walked around the bar as he was dragging him over to a chair, uncoiling the rope she’d pulled out from under the counter. “If you’d hit him as hard as you normally would, Sergei, he’d be dead and I wouldn’t learn anything.”
“This is true. But you know, it is easily as likely that he is here for me as it is that he is here for you,” he remarked as he searched Court’s pockets and pulled out his wallet, a set of keys, and a cell phone. He tossed all of it on the bar and then sat him in the chair, holding his arms behind the back of it.
Billie wrapped the rope around the unconscious man four times and then tied it tight. He wouldn’t be getting out of that unless she or Sergei let him out. She then turned for the bar and picked up the wallet, opening it to find a Virginia driver’s license for Courtney, John A. His date of birth was given as September 15, 1984—making him nearly a year older than she was.
The picture on the license was that of the man slumped over in the chair. The credit card from American Express and the ATM card from First National Bank of Virginia also bore the name John Courtney. If the name was an alias, he had covered his bases fairly well.
The seventy-eight dollars in cash she pocketed, then tossed the wallet back onto the bar and picked up his cell phone. Wisely, he had password protected it, so she was unable to access his contact list.
“Find anything interesting?” Sergei asked.
Billie glanced at where he now sat adjacent to their prisoner, a hand near his gun should he need use it. “According to the plastic his name’s John Courtney. No indication as to whether it’s genuine or created—I’d need to examine it all further to make that determination. Phone’s password protected.”
“I can crack that with my equipment, no problem,” her friend said.
She chuckled. “No doubt you could, moy druk. But as your toys are back at your place, let’s try cracking him first.”
Sergei chuckled his “evil” laugh, and his accent deepened as he replied, “With pleasure,” while cracking his knuckles.
Billie laughed as she slid off the stool she’d perched on and walked behind the bar. She grabbed a pitcher and filled it with ice-cold water, then walked back around the counter and moved to stand in front of the man who’d introduced himself as Court. She tossed the water directly at his face and stood back as he came to, sputtering and yelling obscenities.
“Welcome back,” she said simply.
“What the…?” he said, looking between her and Sergei, and then seeming to suddenly realize he was bound, he flexed his musculature against the rope. “What is this?”
“I should think it fairly obvious, durachit,” Sergei quipped.
“For the moment, you are our prisoner,” Billie explained. “Whether you are released to freedom or death is entirely up to you.”
“Which means your best bet is to be perfectly honest with my padruga here,” added Sergei.
The man squared his shoulders and lifted his chin. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.
Billie raised her eyebrow as she returned to the stool she’d occupied at the bar. She picked up his wallet and opened it again, asking, “Is your name really John Courtney?”
“Brave of you to come down here using your real name. I think I’ll call you John from now on—Court doesn’t really suit you. So tell me, John… what exactly are you doing here?”
“Why don’t you tell me what a former Marine and CIA agent is doing associating with a known Russian hitman…Billie?” John countered.
Billie turned toward Sergei. It was a surprise to neither of them that John knew who they were. She turned back to say, “Interesting question, I’ll give you that. But funny at the same time, as Sergei Pomarov, as far as I know, has never killed anyone.”
John chuckled. “I think we all know his name’s not really Sergei Pomarov, and that he has, in fact, killed nearly fifty men and women for the Russian mafia, namely the Sardetsky family.” He turned his gaze to Sergei. “Of which he is a proud member.”
Sergei gave a mock salute and smiled.
“I’ve killed three times that number of men and women, John,” Billie said flatly.
He looked back at her. “Your actions were done in the service of your country. Piotr here killed for profit. What the hell is he doing here?”
“Another funny question, as I asked you the same thing. You never answered me.”
John sighed. “I think you know why I’m here. I need you to come back with me, Billie. We need you back home.”
“The agency has gotten along just fine without me for the last year,” she remarked. “I think they can handle whatever crisis they’re involved in just fine in my continued absence. In fact, maybe they can give the job to you, since you’re such a pro at blending in.”
John glanced down at his shirt and scoffed. “I really am going to kick Rex’s ass for suggesting this shirt,” he mused.
“It wasn’t just the shirt that gave you away,” Billie pointed out. “Your whole demeanor screamed ‘fed’ to both of us.”
Before John could make another reply—or excuse—his cell phone rang. Billie picked it up and glanced at the screen. “Well, look who’s calling—your buddy Rex. Should we say hello?”
Without waiting for an answer, she swiped the arrow on the screen with her finger and put the phone to her ear. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t shoot your friend John,” she said into the mouthpiece.
“Shit,” said the voice on the other end. “Shoulda known he’d blow it. The boy’s not used to working a woman.”
Billie chuckled. “You know, I could interpret that in several ways, none of which would make John very happy. But I digress.”
Rex, apparently, wasn’t aware of the fact that anyone not wishing to become personally acquainted with her fist wisely avoided calling her by her full name. Then again, he probably figured he was safe using it because he was nowhere near her. Billie decided that for now, she would let it pass.
“We don’t know each other well enough to be on a first-name basis,” she broke in. “So let’s not pretend any of us are friends. And since I’m awfully tired from working all evening, allow me to make myself perfectly clear to you and whoever else is listening: I’m not interested. Whatever problem you’re trying to solve, you’ll have to do it without me.”
She glanced at John, who was shaking his head. “But given I’m feeling in a generous mood, take advantage of that by collecting your friend John alive as soon as possible. He sticks around my back yard much longer and I might be inclined to get twitchy. I think you know what happens when I get twitchy.”
With that, she pressed the End button on the screen. After tossing the phone back on the bar, Billie stood and stepped toward John. Sergei stood and pulled the gun from his waistband, stepping up next to her as she looked down at their captive and said, “I mean it. Whatever you came here for, it was a fool’s errand. Whatever dire straits the CIA’s gotten themselves into, I don’t care anymore.”
“Billie, I really think you should reconsider,” John said. “Once you hear what’s happening—”
“And I really am sure I just don’t give a damn,” she said, moving behind him to start untying the rope holding him to the chair.
At that moment, a noise was heard like the sound of a twig snapping. One of the shutters rattled at the same time and Sergei, his eyes slightly widened in surprise, simply dropped to his knees and fell forward, slamming to the floor as blood began to pour from a gunshot wound at the side of his neck. Billie had only time to register that fact before all hell broke loose.
On instinct, she grabbed John’s chair and threw it to the ground and herself along with it, as a hail of bullets of differing calibers tore through the shutters facing the bay. Glass shattered as they struck the bottles of liquor on the island in the middle of the bar, wood splintered as they slammed into the bar itself.
“Get this damn rope off me!” John yelled as his cell phone was suddenly flung into the air—and subsequently shattered when struck with another of the many bullets flying in their direction.
Billie jerked at the knot binding him to the chair. “This is your fault, you son of a bitch!” she screamed as she got the knot loose. Leaving him to peel the rope off on his own, she crawled around him and moved to Sergei. Though the pool of blood beneath him was quite evident, she nonetheless reached for his throat to check for a pulse.
He was dead.
Rolling him over, she grabbed the Sig he’d been brandishing at John and checked the magazine. It was full, so she raised her arm in the direction of the enemy fire and popped off six of the fifteen rounds. Then she turned and crawled past John—who was snatching his keys and wallet off the floor and shoving them in his pocket—and hurried behind the bar. There she rose to a crouch, keeping her head low to avoid the debris still whizzing around, and duck-walked over the broken glass and splintered wood toward the cash register; underneath that were a couple of spare magazines for the Sig—she grabbed them and stuffed them into her pocket.
“How the hell is any of this my fault?” John asked as he joined her in momentary safety behind the counter.
“Whoever the fuck is out there obviously followed you here,” Billie snapped. “Now thanks to you, Sergei is dead.”
“In my opinion, ‘Sergei’ got what he deserved,” John fired back. “He’s a murderer, Billie.”
“Was, jackass, and not for the simple fact that he’s dead. Sergei left the Sardetsky mafia years ago and made a new life for himself. He walked away from all of it—”
“Let me guess, because he suddenly grew a conscience? Excuse me while I go cry a fucking river.”
Angrily she reached out and punched him in the nose, smiling when his head snapped to the right; when he looked back, blood was dripping from his nostril. “No matter what he did, Sergei was my friend. A good friend. He was there for me when I needed him the most and that is all I care about.”
Billie turned then and reached up to slap a button underneath the bar. A panel on the lower section of the island display dropped down, revealing a dark hole.
“How the hell did you…?” John asked as he wiped blood from under his nose, clearly surprised.
“Any second now the shooting will stop—whoever is out there will be coming in to make sure the job was finished,” Billie said. “I don’t intend to be here when they do.”
Her companion moved closer to the opening. “Where does this lead?”
“Why don’t you find out?” she replied, giving him a hard shove. He shouted in surprise as he began to fall and she laughed, then slid in feet first behind him.