Desperate to escape her kidnappers, Kody Cameron can turn to only one man…and he’s holding a gun. Outnumbered and trapped in the deadly Everglades, she has little recourse, but something in this captor’s eyes makes her believe she can trust him. Does she dare to take the risk?
Undercover agent Nick Connolly has met Kody before and knows she might very well blow his cover. Though determined to maintain his facade, he can’t let Kody die. He won’t. And his decision to change his own rules of law and order are about to make all hell break loose.
This title will run until June 30.
Dakota Cameron was stunned to turn and find a gun in her face. It was held by a tall, broad-shouldered man in a hoodie and a mask. The full-face rubber mask—like the Halloween “Tricky Dickie” masks of Richard Nixon—was familiar. It was a mask to denote a historic criminal, she thought, but which one?
The most ridiculous thing was that she almost giggled. She couldn’t help but think back to when they were kids; all of them here, playing, imagining themselves notorious criminals. It had been the coolest thing in the world when her dad had inherited the old Crystal Manor on Crystal Island, off the Rickenbacker Causeway, between Miami and South Beach—despite the violence that was part of the estate’s history, or maybe because of it.
She and her friends had been young, in grammar school at the time, and they’d loved the estate and all the rumors that had gone with it. They hadn’t played cops and robbers—they had played cops and gangsters, calling each other G-Man or Leftie, or some other such silly name. Because her father was strict and there was no way crime would ever be glorified here—even if the place had once belonged to Anthony Green, one of the biggest mobsters to hit the causeway islands in the late 1940s and early 1950s—crime of any kind was seen as very, very bad. When the kids played games here, the coppers and the G-men always won.
Because of those old games, when Kody turned to find the gun in her face, she felt a smile twitching at her lips. But then the large man holding the gun fired over her head and the sign that bore the name Crystal Manor exploded into a million bits.
The gun-wielder was serious. It was not, as she had thought possible, a joke—not an old friend, someone who had heard she was back in Miami for the week, someone playing a prank.
No. No one she knew would play such a sick joke.
“Move!” a husky voice commanded her.
She was so stunned at the truth of the situation, the masked man staring at her, the bits of wood exploding around her, that she didn’t give way to the weakness in her knees or the growing fear shooting through her. She simply responded.
“Move? To where? What do you want?”
“Out of the booth, up to the house, now. And fast!”
The “booth” was the old guardhouse that sat just inside the great wrought-iron gates on the road. It dated back to the early years of the 1900s when pioneer Jimmy Crystal had first decided upon the spit of high ground—a good three feet above the water level—to found his fishing camp. Coral rock had been dug out of nearby quarries for the foundations of what had then been the caretaker’s cottage. Over the next decade, Jimmy Crystal’s “fishing camp” had become a playground for the rich and famous. The grand house on the water had been built—pieces of it coming from decaying castles and palaces in Europe—the gardens had been planted and the dock had slowly extended out into Biscayne Bay.
In the 1930s, Jimmy Crystal had mysteriously disappeared at sea. The house and grounds had been swept up by the gangster Anthony Green. He had ruled there for years—until being brought down by a hail of bullets at his club on Miami Beach by “assailants unknown.”
The Crystal family had come back in then. The last of them had died when Kody had been just six; that’s when her father had discovered that Amelia Crystal—the last assumed member of the old family—had actually been his great-great-great-aunt.
Daniel Cameron had inherited the grandeur—and the ton of bills—that went with the estate.
“Now!” the gun wielder said.
Kody was amazed that her trembling legs could actually move.
“All right,” she said, surprised by the even tone of her voice. “I’ll have to open the door to get out. And, of course, you’re aware that there are cameras all over this estate?”
“Don’t worry about the cameras,” he said.
She shrugged and moved from the open ticket window to the door. In the few feet between her and the heavy wooden door she tried to think of something she could do.
How in the hell could she sound the alarm?
Maybe it had already been sounded. Crystal Manor was far from the biggest tourist attraction in the area, but still, it was an attraction. The cops were aware of it. And Celestial Island—the bigger island that led to Crystal Island—was small, easily accessible by boat but, from the mainland, only accessible via the causeway and then the bridge. To reach Crystal Island, you needed to take the smaller bridge from Celestial Island—or, as with all the islands, arrive by boat. If help had been alerted, it might take time for it to get here.
Jose Marquez, their security man, often walked the walled area down to the water, around the back of the house and the lawn and the gardens and the maze, to the front. He was on his radio at all times. But, of course, with the gun in her face, she had no chance to call him.
Was Jose all right? she wondered. Had the gunman already gotten to him?
“What! Are you eighty? Move!”
The voice was oddly familiar. Was this an old friend? Had someone in her family even set this up, taunting her with a little bit of reproach for the decision she’d made to move up to New York City? She did love her home; leaving hadn’t been easy. But she’d been offered a role in a “living theater” piece in an old hotel in the city, a part-time job at an old Irish pub through the acting friend who was part owner—and a rent-controlled apartment for the duration. She was home for a week—just a week—to set some affairs straight before final rehearsals and preview performances.
“Now! Get moving—now!” The man fired again and a large section of coral rock exploded.
Her mind began to race. She hadn’t heard many good things about women who’d given in to knife-or gun-wielding strangers. They usually wound up dead anyway.
She ducked low, hurrying to the push button that would lower the aluminum shutter over the open window above the counter at the booth. Diving for her purse, she rolled away with it toward the stairway to the storage area above, dumping her purse as she did so. Her cell phone fell out and she grabbed for it.
But before she could reach it, there was another explosion. The gunman had shot through the lock on the heavy wooden door; it pushed inward.
Of course she did.