Authors: Starr Ambrose
Tags: #No Rules, #Romantic Suspense, #danger, #Egypt, #Mystery & Suspense, #entangled, #guns, #Romance, #Edge, #Suspense, #Adventure, #pyramids, #action, #Starr Ambrose, #archaeology, #Literature & Fiction
Her father’s secret might kill her
Jess Maulier’s estranged father was more than the quiet professor of linguistics he appeared to be – she is shocked to discover he was also an operative for a covert group that rescues hostages. Before he died he left Jess a vital clue to a rescue. Unfortunately, it’s in the form of a children’s story, and she has no idea what it means. Though she resents the close professional and personal relationship the handsome and dangerous Tyler Donovan had with her absentee father, she turns to him for help.
But Tyler doesn’t know how to interpret the story, either. An attempt to decipher it takes them to Egypt, where danger ignites sparks between them. Tyler can’t get involved, though—Professor Maulier advised him never to risk emotional attachments—and Jess tempts him more than could ever be safe. No matter how enticing she is, he has to maintain his distance to preserve his focus. But only mutual trust can save them from encroaching danger.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2014 by Starr Ambrose. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at
Edge is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Allison Blisard
Cover design by Fiona Jayde
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition August 2014
To my always supportive family, with love.
The first time he left it nearly killed her.
This time was different. Now she couldn’t have cared less.
Jess supposed she could work up a good anger if she tried. Something that reflected the unresolved feelings she’d thought fifteen years of therapy had healed. Because death was forever, and this time the son of a bitch hadn’t just walked out of her life; this time he’d died. Any faint hope for an apology or reconciliation with her estranged father was gone—one more thing he’d taken from her. The bastard.
Still, she’d been his only child, and sole surviving blood relative. As far as she knew, he hadn’t even spoken to her mother in fifteen years. So when her father’s lawyer said, “We’ll begin going over the will as soon as the other beneficiary arrives,” she scrunched up her brows in confusion. “What other beneficiary?”
“One moment, Miss Maulier, I’m sure… Ah, here we go.”
Jess turned in her chair, braced for the sight of some garish gold digger, no doubt one of those busty types with too much jewelry and makeup, and a handful of tissues to wipe her fake tears. One final reminder that the gentle, loving father of her childhood was long gone, replaced by a man she didn’t recognize and actions she couldn’t understand.
The cynical expression she’d prepared fell into an openmouthed stare.
It wasn’t a woman. Far from it.
Testosterone oozed from the man who strode into the office. From his height and build, she might have mistaken him for a professional athlete, but he lacked the casual grace and easy-going demeanor she’d expect in a man who played games for a living. Confidence was there, and no doubt the skills to go with it, but she was sure it had nothing to do with sports. This man did not play games. He was danger and aggression in one raw package, an appearance so imposing it would have sent her flying to her therapist’s couch in a panic if he’d approached her in a bar. She hoped he didn’t notice how she shrank back in her chair.
He was dressed entirely in black, from his leather jacket and pants, to his boots and shiny helmet tucked under one arm. Even his unruly hair and unshaven stubble were so dark as to be nearly black. The only spots of color were his blue eyes, which took in the lawyer, then her, before making one thorough sweep of the room.
It was the kind of look that made her sure he could close his eyes and recite every object on Mr. Sanderson’s desk and bookshelf. Cool, but intensely alert. When his gaze came back to her, she shivered.
“Hello, Jessie,” he said, startling her with the nickname only her father had used. “I’m Tyler Donovan.” He bit the fingertips of one leather glove, pulled his hand out, and reached down to where she sat.
She stared, first at him, then at his hand. The chilly November air rolled off him as she allowed him to engulf her fingers in his firm grip for two seconds before pulling abruptly away.
His name had meant nothing to her. He was too young to be one of her father’s contemporaries, yet too old to be a typical student. Surely such a dangerous-seeming man couldn’t have been a close friend of the quiet linguistics scholar? And yet, he’d known her name.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but who are you?”
“Tyler Donovan.” He repeated it slowly, as if it should have some significance for her.
“How did you know my father?”
“We worked together.”
At tiny Emerson college? He had to be in a different department; linguistics had never seemed so
when she was in school. She was still staring at him as Mr. Sanderson settled at his desk and opened a folder. “Please sit down, Mr. Donovan, and we’ll get right to it. This is really very simple, as you are the only two beneficiaries in Walter’s will. I’ll summarize, if you’d like me to skip the legal jargon.”
She nodded and Donovan said, “That’s fine,” but his attention seemed more on her than on Mr. Sanderson. She was equally distracted, still wondering who in the hell he was while trying to ignore the little flip her stomach took every time her gaze ran into his.
Mr. Sanderson seemed oblivious, intent on his own agenda, which apparently involved wrapping up this appointment and being someplace else. “Good, good,” he approved. “Walter had this will drawn up several years ago, but nothing has changed and it’s quite straightforward. Miss Maulier, the house and property in Nipagonee Rapids, consisting of ten acres, are left to you. All monies in stocks, bonds, retirement plans, and any accounts at the Emerson College Teachers Credit Union are also yours. My secretary will provide you with a list of all accounts with their current values.”
“I believe the total assets are close to three million dollars.”
“Three…” Her tongue stumbled to a halt.
“Million.” Mr. Sanderson nodded briskly. “If you think any assets have been overlooked once you see the list, please let me know immediately.”
“Uh, no, that is, I’m sure…” She ran out of words, realizing she wasn’t sure of anything. She hadn’t expected to profit from her father’s death.
“And Mr. Donovan, Walter consigned the entire contents of his house to you.”
Jess shot a startled glance at the man next to her, who did not look surprised in the least.
Mr. Sanderson went on without looking up. “Two things are excepted from that bequest. One is a collection of children’s books displayed on the fireplace mantle, and the other is a glass-enclosed bookshelf in the study containing replicas of ancient Egyptian artifacts and copies of two books authored by Walter on his research in Egypt. Both go to Miss Maulier.”
The lawyer finally looked up with a satisfied smiled. “That’s it. Any questions?”
Jess didn’t know where to start. She’d just fallen heir to more money than she’d ever expected to have, and yet all her father’s personal items, from valuable Persian rugs to the precious framed paintings done by her mother years ago, had been given to some stranger. An intimidating, dark stranger who nodded once as if satisfied that he’d gotten exactly what he expected.
It stung, a final parting insult she hadn’t expected. She’d wanted those paintings. She’d also wanted the memories that went with them of a time when she and her parents had been a close-knit, happy family. Now they belonged to Tyler Donovan…whoever the hell he was.
The man in question turned his enigmatic, closed expression on her. “I’d like to go through the house as soon as possible. When can I come over?”
hovered on her lips, but she bit it back. She probably couldn’t deny him access, but she didn’t have to make it easy for him to cart off the only good mementos she had from a torn-apart childhood. “Later,” she said stiffly. “I have a funeral to get through first.” She stood, telling Mr. Sanderson, “Thank you, I’ll get in touch with your secretary before I return to Houston.”
She had her hand on the doorknob within two seconds, but Donovan sprang to his feet and grabbed the edge of the door before she could push it far enough to squeeze through. “I really need to go through the contents of that house, Jessie,” he said.
“My name is Jess,” she muttered, unnerved by the affectionate nickname coming from his lips. Touching him was even more disturbing. The cool leather of his sleeve brushed her arm, and his warm breath tickled her neck in a way that was pleasant enough to be disconcerting. “You’ll have to do it later,” she told him, adding a glare meant to enforce her decision. It had no effect, but he didn’t stop her when she pushed against his weight and shoved through the doorway, relieved to be free. She didn’t bother to give him her phone number, certain he would find a way to get it. He looked resourceful.
Donovan walked briskly down the deserted hallway of the Bass County morgue, boots clicking dully on the linoleum, leather chaps and jacket creaking like an old saddle. Rainwater dripped off the helmet dangling from his hand, leaving a trail of drops behind him. He was cold and wet, but considering it was November in northern Michigan, he was just relieved the precipitation wasn’t snow.
He would have preferred to have his car, but the message about Wally had caught him off guard in the middle of moving the bike to his sister’s house for the winter. Continuing north was faster than turning back to his apartment in Chicago to get his car. But he’d still been too late. There was nothing to do but follow Wally’s puzzling final instructions to contact Jessie.
But first he needed to confirm his suspicions.
At the end of the hallway a door opened and light spilled out around the stout form of a man in a police uniform. He jerked his chin in Donovan’s direction. “You Tyler Donovan?”
“Yeah. Sheriff Mosely?” At the older man’s nod, Donovan offered a firm handshake as he reached the door, then followed Mosely inside.
“Tom Rasmussen,” Mosely said, introducing the man who rose from his desk. “County coroner.”
“Thanks for staying late,” Donovan said, shaking hands again.
“Not my idea,” the coroner grunted. “Parker here said you had information about the victim’s cause of death,” he said, nodding at Sheriff Mosely. “I can’t imagine it would change my conclusion, but I have to listen anyway.”
Donovan absorbed the insult without expression, but was pleased to see Rasmussen scowl when he tossed his wet helmet onto the visitor’s chair in front of the desk. He’d never gotten along well with territorial bureaucrats and this one was already giving off bad vibes. “The sheriff tells me you have a cause of death for Walter Shikovski,” he said.
“What was it?”
“Why do you want to know?”
Donovan allowed a tight smile, enough to let the coroner know that he was merely tolerating the question; the report was public knowledge. “He was a close friend,” he said. True, although far from the whole truth.
“Didn’t know he had any,” Mosely said. The sheriff’s assessing gaze was more professional than Rasmussen’s, openly curious about the stranger. “His coworkers said he kept to himself.”
“I’m a former student.” Also true, as far as it went. “Walter’s death was…unexpected.” Alarming was more accurate.
Rasmussen nodded, accepting the story. “Walter Shikovski died of a heart attack,” he said. “Plain and simple. Ventricular tachycardia resulting in death.”
A heart attack, maybe. Not plain and simple, though. “Can I see the body?”
The coroner frowned. “Why?”
He didn’t want to say it, but knew he wouldn’t get to see the body any other way. “Because you might have missed something.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“Then how would you know?”
“I knew Wally.” If he gave them the truth, they’d never believe it. “Look, if you won’t show me, I’ll examine the body at the funeral home. But it would be easier if I could see him here.” It took all the patience he had to add, “Please.”
Rasmussen gave Sheriff Mosley a sullen glance. Mosley shrugged. “Fine,” Rasmussen acquiesced reluctantly. “In here.”
He followed them into an adjoining room, past a solitary autopsy table in the center, to a bank of four steel vault doors in the far wall. Rasmussen pulled out the upper left drawer until it was fully extended. Donovan braced himself mentally as the coroner lifted the sheet, revealing the upper half of Walter Shikovski’s nude body.
He’d seen dead bodies before, but never got used to the jolt of seeing the composed, grayish features of a friend. Sadness twisted in his chest, and he quickly looked away from Wally’s face. His friend would understand the necessity of what he had to do, but he would perform the task with as much respect as he could.
Stepping closer, he took Wally’s left arm and turned it, carefully examining the spaces between his fingers, the inner crook of his elbow, and under his arm. The dead limb felt unnaturally heavy and loose in his hands. Setting his jaw, he repeated the examination on Wally’s right arm. Rather than lower the sheet past his friend’s waist, he raised it from the bottom, exposing Wally’s lower legs. He repeated the search, checking behind Wally’s knees and between his toes, even pulling out a small flashlight to better examine the waxy, pale skin. Rasmussen stood with his arms folded and said nothing. Donovan ignored him, taking his time.
Finally, he straightened and wiped beads of sweat from his brow, the evidence he’d found chilling him to the bone. Goddamn it. What had his friend gotten into, and what kind of hell had they put him through before killing him?
“I’m done,” he told the coroner. “Thank you.”
Rasmussen came forward. “What do you mean, you’re done. What did you find?”
“Exactly what I thought I’d find. Needle marks. But I’m not surprised you missed them, they were well hidden.”
“Marks, plural? What the hell are you talking about?”
He didn’t have to answer. Rasmussen snatched the flashlight from him and repeated the examination, touching on every spot Donovan had looked at. Mosely watched with growing curiosity, moving closer to Wally’s body as if he might see something, too. When Rasmussen finally turned to face Donovan, his cynicism had been replaced by a sober determination. “What happened to him?”
Nothing he wanted to tell. “What do you think?”
“Needles. He was injected, repeatedly. I did a standard tox screen; nothing showed up.”
“It wouldn’t. I’m sure the drug used was undetectable.” What he didn’t say was that, if this case was like others he’d seen, only one of those marks was from a lethal injection. The others were most likely thin probes, used purely to cause pain. But Rasmussen would probably never need to diagnose torture again, and didn’t need to know. “You weren’t wrong about the heart attack, just maybe about the cause.”
Mosely pushed at his shoulder, making Donovan turn. “Hey, are you saying there was a crime here? That this was murder?”