Read Targeted (Firebrand Book 1) Online
Authors: Sandra Robbins
Tags: #Inspirational Romance
Thank you to Natasha Kern for her encouragement, support, and determination to see this book published.
Sleepless nights had become all too common over the past few months for Lainey DeHan, and tonight was no exception. With a sigh she climbed from her bed, pulled on her robe, and stumbled across the dark bedroom to the window.
The security lights scattered over the estate cast an eerie glow across the yard in the misty fog, and she shivered at the sight. Overhead, gray clouds obscured the moon, and a sudden wind moaned in the eaves of the house, its lonely song taunting her to remember things better left in the past. She wanted to ignore the dare, but she’d never learned to do that.
She had given up long ago on trying to keep her memories at bay. Once she’d believed they would dim with time, but time hadn’t been her ally in this fight. They were carved into her mind as surely as if a master craftsman had left their haunting beauty there to remind her of times past. Of happier times. Of sadder times.
There was no stopping it. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to block the memory, yet it came anyway. She saw him as he’d looked that first day on the mountain trail, rain dripping from his jacket and a smug smile pulling at his lips.
Even now it was hard to describe Ash DeHan, the younger son of a wealthy business owner, the high school boy she’d secretly fantasized about, the decorated war veteran, and the man she’d fallen in love with. Words like handsome, athletic, romantic, charming, and possessive hardly did him justice. He could also be arrogant, cocky and conceited. But she usually simply thought of him as breathtaking. It didn’t take her long to succumb to his charm, and she’d fallen hard.
Her pulse still raced when she recalled how she would tremble when he trailed his index finger down her cheek and gently slid his hand around to the back of her head as he pressed his lips to hers. She’d thought she’d found her happily-ever-after with him, but she’d been wrong. She hadn’t been enough for him, and he’d deserted her for a life of danger and adventure. The question of whether or not she could have made him stay still haunted her, but she’d been too afraid to take the chance.
Guilt welled up in her, and she shook her head. She shouldn’t be thinking about Ash. She should be remembering Richard, the man who’d saved her life, who’d loved her, and who’d offered his brother’s abandoned child a father. He’d loved her unconditionally, given her everything a woman could want. If at first it had seemed like an act of betrayal to turn to Ash’s brother, she soon came to see you can’t betray someone who walks out on you.
Richard had been kind, and she’d never seen anyone as happy as he was when Max was born. At last she’d had the perfect family. But as Lainey had learned when her parents were killed, the perfect family was never meant to last. Richard’s cancer had come back, and just like that, it was only her and Max.
In a burst of anger she raised her fist and pounded it against the wall. Why didn’t anything ever work out for her? She had lost everybody she loved—her parents, the grandmother who’d raised her, Ash, her father-in-law Edward, who’d welcomed her into his home, and now Richard. Everybody but her little boy, Max. He was all she had in the world, and she was all he had. She’d tried to protect him and give him a good life, but sometimes she wondered if she’d isolated the two of them too much. What would happen to Max if she should become disabled or die? With Richard and his father Edward both dead, there was no one left in her family or in the DeHan family to take care of Max if the need arose.
Nobody but Ash, and he’d never even met his son.
She supposed anyone looking at her life would think she had everything a woman her age could want. Thanks to Richard’s foresight, she was financially independent. Not many thirty-three-year-old women could boast being the CEO of a business as large as
DeHan Enterprises. She lived in a gated community in an upscale section of town. She’d never wanted to run a company, but that had changed with Richard’s death. She had to protect DeHan Enterprises. Edward and Richard had insisted that she take over if anything happened to the two of them so that someday, Max could inherit what Edward had spent his life building.
She turned away from the window, walked back across the dark bedroom, and sat on the edge of her bed. The digital numbers on the clock on her bedside table pierced the darkness. Two AM.
Four hours until the alarm would signal for her day to begin, and she needed some sleep. She slid off her robe and draped it over a chair just as another gust of wind rattled the window. As the noise died away, a sound like the creak of a floorboard rose from somewhere in the house. She stilled and listened for another. A few seconds later, the high-pitched squeak of weight on wood echoed through the darkness.
Suddenly the darkness seemed thicker, more oppressive. A sickening feeling curled in the pit of her stomach, and she shuddered from the icy chill spreading through her body. Should she turn on a light or remain in the dark? Another creak set her heart to pounding in double time. With shaking fingers she flipped on the bedside lamp.
The news report of a woman killed in her home in a neighboring town flashed in her mind. The reporter had said the assailant entered the house while the woman slept, then raped and killed her. Was someone downstairs right now? An intruder bent on robbing them or assaulting her, or even worse, hurting Max?
No sooner had the thought flashed into her head than she dismissed it. The house had a state of the art security system and sat in a walled-in estate. Motion sensors would alert her immediately if anyone attempted to enter the property. At least that’s what she’d been told by the sales representative and the men who’d installed the system.
She took a deep breath to calm her racing pulse. There had to be another explanation for the strange sounds in the house. Maybe Max had gotten out of bed.
Ignoring the robe she’d draped over a chair, she hurried from her bedroom to her son’s room at the end of the hallway. At his closed door, she took a deep breath and turned the knob. As she eased the door open, the hinge she’d been intending to oil squeaked a low piercing sound, reminding her of her Irish grandmother’s ghost stories about banshees who wailed when someone was about to die. She bit down on her lip and rolled her eyes. There was no need to add ghost stories to the list of things keeping her awake tonight.
Shaking her head to rid it of the ridiculous memory, she stepped into Max’s room and looked around. The small night light next to his desk cast a warm glow across the room and lit the sleeping figure of her ten-year-old son. With a sigh of relief she tiptoed to his side and stared down at him. Careful not to wake him, she reached over and smoothed the dark hair, so like his father’s, back from his eyes.
The troubling thoughts that had robbed her of sleep tonight dissolved in the peaceful nighttime quiet of the now-silent house as she tucked the covers around him, bent, and brushed her lips across his forehead in a tender kiss. There were no banshees about tonight, the wind and fog couldn’t harm them, Max was safe in his bed, and regrets needed to be left in the past where they belonged. She had to quit letting her imagination get the best of her and return to bed. There
were challenges to be met at tomorrow’s Board of Directors meeting, and she needed to wear her best game face.
Leaving open the door to Max’s room, she walked back down the hallway. A chill filled the house, and she hugged her arms around her waist. Perhaps she’d set the thermostat too low before going to bed. A quick check on the panel downstairs might be a good idea.
Before she took a step onto the first stairway riser, another squeak rose from somewhere nearby. She eased back into the hallway and listened. When she heard nothing, she shook her head in disgust. She was doing it again . . . looking for things that go bump in the night. Tomorrow she would call her doctor and see about getting something to help her sleep. Better to be in a drug-induced state than to lie awake with her imagination running rampant.
Yawning, she returned to her dark bedroom. She’d gotten nearly halfway to the bed when she realized the lamp on her bedside table was no longer on.
The stale smell of cigarettes drifted to her nose, and she knew right away.
She wasn’t alone.
A gloved hand clamped around her mouth. Another pressed the cold edge of a knife blade against her throat.
She trembled, desperate to fight but afraid of that knife. Her heart pounded. Her stomach churned at the smell of alcohol mixed with tobacco in the warm breath that fanned her face. The grating of a low, guttural voice rasped in her ear. “If you don’t want your son hurt, keep quiet, Mrs. DeHan. Do you understand?”
Max! She’d do anything to protect her son.
She gave a slight nod in reply.
The rough fabric of a sweatshirt rubbed against her skin as he pressed the knife blade even harder into her flesh and traced a line down her throat to her collarbone. Her legs trembled, and the man’s hand tightened on her mouth as he pulled her against his body. Chills ran down her spine as he breathed against her ear. “I’m going to remove my hand from your mouth, but I’m warning you first. I’m not alone. If you make one sound, my friend will go to your son’s room and slit his throat. Now are you going to be quiet?”
Her eyes had grown accustomed to the dark, and a groan gurgled in her throat as another figure clad in black emerged from the shadows. She nodded again.
Slowly the hand released her mouth and groped its way downward along her body until his arm encircled her waist and pinned her arms to her side. She wheezed from the struggle to breathe, and with a chuckle he loosened his hold on her a bit. “Now that’s a good girl. If you’ll just cooperate, this will all be over in a few minutes.”
If he’d thought his words would reassure her, they didn’t. A lot could happen in a few minutes. She began to shake harder. “H-how d-did you get in here?”
He laughed and rubbed his cheek against hers. “You need to talk to whoever sold you that security system. I’m afraid you paid a lot of money for a piece of junk, but then you’re a wealthy woman. Money may not mean a lot to you.”
At his mention of money, she stiffened. Maybe robbery was what this was all about. She took a deep breath. “M-my p-purse is on the dresser. There’s money in it. You can have it all.”
He laughed. “We don’t want your money.”
A new fear coursed through her. A woman living alone. Two men breaking into her home, and they had no interest in money. The killer of the woman in the neighboring town hadn’t stolen anything, either. What had that woman’s last thoughts been? Had she offered her assailants money? Had she begged for her life before she’d been raped and murdered? “P-please, n-no,” she sobbed.
A low chuckle rose from the man’s throat. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’re not interested in that either. At least not tonight. If we have to come back, it may be a different story though.”
“I don’t understand. Why are you here?”
“We want you to do something for us.”
There was only one thing she could think of that might be of interest to someone else, the new product her company was about to release. “Is this about my company?”
He laughed, louder this time. “I could care less about your company. This is about Firebrand. Does that name mean anything to you?”
Of all the things he might have said, that was the last thing she expected. She didn’t breathe for a few seconds before she responded. “I don’t understand.”
In one quick motion he raised the knife to her throat again, nicking the skin this time, and trailed it down the side of her neck. Something warm trickled along the knife’s path leaving a burning pain in its wake. She struggled to bring a hand up, to touch the cut that now felt like fire on her skin, but he held her tighter. “Answer my question,” he snarled. “Does the name Firebrand mean anything to you?”
“Yes, yes.” She willed herself to stand still and gulped another deep breath. “I’ve heard of Firebrand.”