(A James Thomas Novel #1)
He should walk away. She doesn’t want him to. But she doesn’t know him, she doesn’t even know his real name…
(A James Thomas Novel #2)
Secrets are revealed. Lives are forever changed. James Thomas is fighting to protect those he loves, but he could never predict what happens next…
(A James Thomas Novel #3)
James dug up the body and brought it home. But, the dead man is not who he thought it was…
(A James Thomas Novel #4)
Sarquis’ portraits changed everything. James Thomas has the identity of the man hunting him, but there’s one problem…
(A James Thomas Novel #5)
A code. A cult. A kidnapping. James Thomas is playing a deadly game of chess, but not everyone will survive…
The James Thomas Series Box Set
(Novels 1 – 3)
For a limited time only, buy the first three books at 50% OFF!
The James Thomas Series Box Set
(Novels 1 – 5)
Buy the five novels in one box set!
(A James Thomas Novella)
New identities. New lives. They thought they were safe in Tokyo, but they were wrong…
(A Deacon Thomas Novel #1)
They say time heals all wounds, but that’s a lie…
(A Deacon Thomas Novel #2)
He dug his hands into the wet, muddy soil, searching for his murdered girlfriend’s remains, but what he found was something very different…
The Secrets of Their Souls
(The Soul Series Book #1)
Zahra Foster is good at keeping secrets…
The Ghosts of Their Pasts
(The Soul Series Book #2)
Blood will be shed. Lives will be destroyed…
The Blood of Their Sins
(The Soul Series Book #3)
Some secrets aren’t mean to stay buried forever…
The Soul Series Box Set
(Novels 1 – 3)
For a limited time only, buy the entire series at 50% OFF!
ALL ACCESS PASS
Brooke shares exclusive content with her mailing list that you won’t find anywhere else. She sends out a monthly newsletter with updates including a secret Q&A video just for her subscribers. And, prior to every book launch, Brooke gives a limited number of subscribers the opportunity to join her Advance Review Group. This group gets a free copy of Brooke’s latest book, weeks before anyone can get it, in exchange for an honest review.
Brooke Sivendra lives in Adelaide, Australia with her husband and two furry children—Milly, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and Lara, a massive Great Dane who is fifty pounds heavier than Brooke and thinks she is a lap dog!
Brooke has a degree in Nuclear Medicine and worked in the field of medical research before launching her first business at the age of twenty-six. This business grew to be Australia’s premier online shopping directory and Brooke recently sold it to focus on her writing.
THE RANGER is now live and I’m so excited to release this novel! THE RANGER is the first book of the Deacon Thomas Duet and it follows on from SORIN (Book Five of the James Thomas Series) while telling the story of Deacon’s past and his relationship with Nicole.
Here are the first four chapters!
CHAPTER ONE – DEACON
Deacon Thomas’s apartment was so silent it seemed to have a heartbeat of its own. And the silence was a reminder of everything that was missing in his life—everything that had been violently ripped away from him. Nicole. The woman he’d loved and sworn to protect. The woman he’d failed. The woman who still owned his heart and soul.
Deacon’s arms shook as he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. He wove the silver chain through his fingers, and the dim bedside lamp caught the metal, casting a rainbow of glittering light on the wall.
A fire burned in his heart, stealing the oxygen from his lungs. He wished it would take his memories, too. But it didn’t. It never did. They stayed with him like the demons of hell.
He wondered how his chest could still burn after seven years. There shouldn’t be anything left of him other than a pile of ashes. Some days he was surprised his heart continued to beat when he would’ve sworn it had finally given up, suffocated by the ash that seemed to pile higher every year. Whoever said time heals all wounds was a liar.
He ran his thumb across the single-diamond pendant. He had few material possessions, but this one meant everything to him. It was his last piece of her. The only piece he had.
His chest shuddered as he exhaled.
Nicole passed seven years ago to the day, and this anniversary tortured him more than any other—more than her birthday, more than their first date. The anniversary of her death was a day he struggled to find a reason to get up and to go on with life. The day guilt consumed every breath he took and every second that passed. The day he feared closing his eyes because he couldn’t bear seeing her—seeing her screaming for him. Pleading for him. Their eyes meeting, as they’d done that fateful night—and every night in his dreams since—his throat seizing over and his vision blurring. He hadn’t been able to move. He hadn’t been able to even lift a hand while her life was taken from her one agonizing second at a time.
He heard the door open and footsteps followed. He heard it even in his state of mind because it all came down to training and repetition. Training under the ultimate warrior—James Thomas.
Deacon asked himself the same question he’d asked a million times: if Deacon had had the skill set then he had now, would he have been able to save her?
The question ate at him, mostly because he was scared of the answer—of the truth. While there were no guarantees, the Deacon Thomas of today would’ve had a much better chance.
He shook his head and dropped the necklace into his bedside drawer as James appeared at the threshold of Deacon’s bedroom.
James didn’t offer any words of condolence. He didn’t tell Deacon to stop torturing himself. But he understood—better than he ever had—where Deacon’s mind was and the blitzing pain it was in. And yet James, knowing that and having the love of his life almost ripped away from him, still couldn’t walk away from the one relationship he should.
Deacon had always said to himself that, if he could go back in time, he wouldn’t have gotten involved with Nicole at all. But some microscopic part of him wondered if he really could’ve ended the relationship.
Deacon stood and turned off the lamp. “Where are we going?” he asked.
Deacon arched a brow. “Cool? That doesn’t sound like us.”
James chuckled. “You can find out all kinds of things when you read client reports, like where the cool bars are in town. Because, God knows, we wouldn’t have a clue.”
“That is true, brother,” Deacon said, picking up his pistol, wallet, and cell phone from his bedside table.
It required effort to put one foot in front of the other, but the alternative was to sleep, and that thought almost crippled him. He’d much rather drown his sorrows with a bottle of tequila and delay any possibility of seeing Nicole in his dreams.
Deacon closed the apartment door behind them and pressed the elevator button, taking them to the basement. “I assume Samuel hasn’t progressed on the lead,” he said, his mind switching back to work. Oddly enough, if given the choice, he would never have chosen this field, but now he was grateful for it—the intensity of the job kept Nicole’s ghost from his mind better than anything else did.
“No, not yet. He will, though—assuming there is something to find,” James said, drawing the car keys from his pocket as the elevator descended. They both knew Deacon wasn’t driving anywhere tonight.
“Is Marianne worried?” Deacon asked. What had begun as a family of four had become a blended family that continued to expand beyond their control.
James shrugged. “Mak and I visited her today . . .” James hesitated, and Deacon felt the sideways glance, but he continued to stare straight ahead. James continued, “She seems okay. I told her we’d monitor things and keep her informed, but we don’t think we need to increase her security at this point.”
The elevator doors slid open and they walked toward James’s car.
“She’s getting big now,” James said while his eyes darted around the car park, as they always did.
In a few months, Marianne and her daughter’s life would change forever. And so would theirs.
“Soon we’re going to have a screaming baby boy in the family,” Deacon said.
James snorted. “Marianne is going to have a screaming baby. And she’s still refusing to have a nanny—even if we do full security checks. She wants to do it on her own.”
Deacon turned that over in his mind for a minute. “Well, if anyone can, it’s Marianne. She’s no wilting flower.” He slid into the passenger seat. “You’re going to be an uncle again.”
James’s eyes twinkled. “So are you, brother.”
Deacon chuckled. Not by blood, but if he’d learned one thing in this life, it was family wasn’t born out of blood. It was born out of loyalty.
“How is Mak dealing with all of this?” Deacon asked. He rarely asked about Mak—unless it involved her security. James and Mak’s relationship was a topic that brewed tension, even to this day. Deacon wanted to scream—had screamed—at James. He’d told him it wasn’t worth it, but it made no difference. Deacon prayed James didn’t learn the way he had. He would never wish that on anyone, least of all James.
“She says she’s good with it and she’s happy I’ve found my family—what’s left of it. They get along well, but they’re at very different stages: Marianne’s focused on giving her children a new life, and Mak’s focused on prosecuting gangland murderers . . .” James veered out of the car park and into the streets of Manhattan.
Deacon didn’t miss the way his voice lowered before it trailed off. “Did you ask for the favor from our guy inside Rikers?”
James gave a long sigh. “I half did . . .” he said, pulling a face that indicated he knew he shouldn’t have.
“Half did?” Deacon asked, his lips curving up.
James shrugged. “I only asked him to get in touch if the winds blew any whispers of threats his way. I, somehow, refrained myself from asking what his prison colleagues are saying about her otherwise.”
James didn’t have to ask—the brothers both knew what they would be saying. They’d spent enough time with criminals to know the filthy things that came out of their mouths when a beautiful, strong, intelligent woman walked inside their walls with the balls to prosecute a gangland murderer.
“Because you don’t actually want to hear it? Or because you’re worried about overstepping the boundary?” Deacon asked, watching James carefully.
His lips formed a thin line, but when he turned to look at him, there was a glint in his eye. “Both; but between you and me, mostly because of the second reason.”
Deacon laughed. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
There were power issues at play between James and Mak, and although Mak might not yet realize it, she was winning more often than she was losing—particularly because getting a man like James Thomas to release control, to compromise, was no easy task. It was one Deacon had initially thought impossible but had been surprised when he saw the small, subtle changes in James’s behavior.
James pulled up at a bar not far from Thomas Security—they never went far from their headquarters unless they had to—and parked on a side street.
As they always did, they walked to the front of the line, gave a voice code, and walked in without a second glance or a weapons check. They negotiated deals with all of the venues their clients regularly frequented.
The brothers went straight to the bar, ordered two drinks—one of which would never be finished, he knew—and James pulled a box of cigars from his pocket. They did the same thing every year, and somehow the routine, and the familiarity of it, helped Deacon. It didn’t take away his pain, but a small part of him always felt less alone.
Deacon’s eyes traveled the bar, noting the clientele. He’d be lucky if he walked out of the club without being blinded by the rocks on their fingers or the stones draped around their necks. At one stage in their life, not too long ago in the scheme of things, they’d had nothing more than a few hundred dollars to their name. Now Deacon would wage a bet that they had as much, if not more, than the wealthiest person in the club. Of course, not all of their money had been earned through legal activities—but that was probably true for many of the bar’s patrons.
Deacon raised the glass to his lips, and his taste buds reveled in the liquid so rarely consumed. He allowed himself to relinquish control on only two nights of the year—Nicole’s birthday and the anniversary of her death.
“Did you ask Samuel to come out?” Deacon asked before another mouthful of burning liquid slid down the back of his throat.
James puffed on a cigar. “Like I do every year. And, like every year, he said he’s too busy.”
Deacon smiled. “There’s something really wrong with him,” he said, getting a rare, deep laugh from James.
“There’s something really wrong with all of us,” James joked. “I’m not complaining, though. I do want to know if this chatter about taking revenge on Marianne is just that, or if there’s more to it.”
“I do, too,” Deacon said. The further she progressed in her pregnancy, the more danger she was in if they found her. If the offspring rebels of Saratani found out she was carrying an heir to their underground criminal organization, things could get very ugly, very fast. They’d barely managed to catch their breath from the last battle with Saratani. Deacon knew what his brother was thinking, but not saying: There are kids involved. Innocent children who would be sacrificed for the organization.
“One day at a time,” Deacon said, knowing it was pointless to worry until they had more to go on. And if anyone could find out, Samuel could. He might be a recluse, but he was a genius recluse.
Deacon tipped the glass to his lips, checking it twice when nothing more than a drop hit his tongue. He barely remembered drinking it. James noticed and motioned to the bartender for another without a word, without judgment.
“When are we leaving for Tokyo?” Deacon asked. They still had one more favor to deliver, a result of their war with Saratani. It would hopefully be the final closure of the nightmare that’d nearly killed them all.
“Soon,” James said with a nod. “I think we’ve stalled Haruki Tohmatsu as long as we can. I’ll do another physical test on Monday, and then—if I pass—we’ll make plans to go.”
Deacon had become James’s physical trainer over the past few months and it was the first time their roles had been reversed. James had always been fitter, always stronger. But now, Deacon could easily kick his ass, something he brought up as frequently as he could.
James read his thoughts, his lips turning into a smirk. “Get ready to be dethroned, brother. I’m coming back.”
Deacon beamed a grin back at him. “Game on.”
CHAPTER TWO – JAMES
James might’ve been fooled by the smile on Deacon’s lips, and the deep rumble of his chest, but the rate he was putting the drinks away told a very different story. Before, on the anniversary of Nicole’s birthday, they had been caught up in the mess of what they’d thought was Mak’s security case, which turned out to be a very different story. Regardless, they hadn’t been able to go out like they normally did. James wondered if Deacon was simply making up for it, getting two for one tonight, of if there was more going on. James wasn’t oblivious that his own relationship with Mak brought up feelings that Deacon refused to face. James didn’t blame him, though. All things considered, if Deacon only drank himself into a blind mess a couple nights a year—given what he’d been through—that was a pretty good result. James wasn’t going to stop him, but he would carry him home.
James nodded to the bartender again, refilling Deacon’s glass. He also asked for a menu, thinking it would be a good idea to put something in Deacon’s stomach, considering it had been a few hours since they’d eaten in Samuel’s office.
James brought his cigar to his lips, thinking how normal they must look to everyone else, and how far this appearance was from their reality.
His phone vibrated in his pocket and he drew it out, hiding his smile as he read the message.
Mak: Home from Rikers. Safe and sound.
Her message was the result of his request, even though Cami would’ve alerted him to trouble far before Mak would’ve. And, even though tone was difficult to interpret in text messages, he imagined her typing that with an ounce or two of mocking.
But the gangland murder case she was working on made James anxious. He wanted—needed—a period in their life for them just to have some degree of normalcy. A period without the threat of death looming over them. He wondered if they were ever going to be that lucky. Although everything seemed calm at the moment, he knew a security case could blow up at any time.
He typed a quick reply—I’ll call you in the morning. J—before returning his attention to Deacon.
“Mak’s home,” James said simply, and Deacon nodded. James changed the subject. “Getting back to Tokyo, did you get a chance to look over the surveillance folder Samuel emailed us?”
And like that, they spent the next few hours talking business. James didn’t count the drinks Deacon put away—he just let the man drown his sorrows and deal with his pain in the only way he seemed to know how. Deacon chose alcohol as his vice. The fact that he could consume the volume he was and still not succumb to his emotions was extremely worrying to James. He thought about how to approach the topic again, given that every single time he had in the past, it had resulted in blazing fights between them, to the point that Deacon told him if he brought it up again, he’d leave—he’d go out on his own. It wasn’t an empty threat, James knew. Deacon might let him call the shots when it came to work, but that didn’t apply to his personal life. It hadn’t when Deacon and Nicole had been together, and it hadn’t after her death. James had given up after that last argument, and he’d let Deacon deal with the pain the way he seemingly wanted to—or the only way he knew how to—but James was finding it hard not to say something again. Deacon might appear fine to the outside world, but James knew better. When he could control his emotions, he was numb. And when he couldn’t, he was in a world of pain.
That’s where the brothers were different. James wouldn’t have suppressed his pain; he wouldn’t have buried the memories away in the deepest recess of his mind. He would’ve taken revenge. He would’ve killed every person who had a link to Nicole. And it would’ve been a bloody mess.
James thought over the conversation he’d had with Mak last night. He knew Deacon was going to be furious, but he had to try again. He would rather see Deacon angry with him than in the state of self-loathing he was currently in, and if his brother hated him in the morning, he’d deal with it then. Anyway, Deacon couldn’t leave now, not without Samuel tracking him.
James cleared his throat, grateful for the music that concealed their conversation from anyone standing around them. “I’m going to tell you something, something you probably don’t want to hear, but need to,” James said, choosing his words delicately. Deacon didn’t respond—there was no change in demeanor, but he did lug another mouthful of his tequila.
James continued, “Mak said something to me last night. She made me promise that if something happened to her, even if it happened because of me, I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life punishing myself for it.”
Deacon’s hands tightened around his glass.
“She said that becoming involved with me was her choice, and that she’s prepared to accept those risks because what we have together is worth it. I know—”
“You don’t know!” Deacon said, pushing back, his anger palpable. “You don’t know what it feels like. I can’t just get over it and pick up my life and put it back together tomorrow.”
“I’m not saying you can do that,” James said, keeping his voice low, refusing to match Deacon’s. “I honestly don’t know what I would do if something happened to Mak—I don’t think it’s something I’d ever fully get past—but I do think that you need to forgive yourself for what happened. You’ve suffered, Deacon. You’ve suffered for years. You’ve paid your price for what happened ten times over. It’s okay to move on now. Whether you want to admit it or not, it’s what Nicole would want.”
“It doesn’t matter what she’d want. She’s dead,” Deacon said through gritted teeth.
James reluctantly let it drop. That was enough pushing for today, and he didn’t want to attract the attention of the bar patrons. “Okay.” He sighed.
Deacon finished his drink in two large mouthfuls and ordered another. For a moment James regretted having said anything, worried he’d pushed his brother too far. But Deacon had been putting away the drinks before their conversation. The night had been headed in one direction from the very beginning.
James changed the conversation back to work—to a common ground. Their partnership in the business worked well because Deacon was a much better businessman than James was, while James loved doing the dirty work. Although Deacon got his hands dirty when required, he never got the same thrill from it.
When Deacon’s eyes glazed over and he stopped talking in the middle of a slurred sentence, as if he had forgotten what he was saying, James knew it was time to go home. The alcohol seemed to be hitting him hard and fast now, like a snowball that had been gathering momentum. And when his words began to become incomprehensible and his head was wobbling, James knew it was definitely time to go.
James slid his credit card across the bar and paid the tab without Deacon noticing.
“Okay, brother, let’s go,” James said.
Deacon looked at him with hooded eyes, gave a small sigh, then slid off the bar stool, swaying. James wrapped an arm around his shoulder, like two grown men in drunken camaraderie, and guided him toward the door.
James gave a nod to the bouncer as they passed, who eyed them with interest.
James kept them walking as Deacon said a friendly goodbye. James smiled, but there was no humor in it.
When they got to the corner, Deacon tripped on his own feet, but James kept him upright, ignoring the twinge it caused in his not yet fully healed ribs. During normal daily activity, during sex even, he no longer felt any pain. But carrying Deacon, who was no small man, was not an easy task even when James was in top condition.
James unlocked the car, helped Deacon in, and jumped into the driver’s seat. He put the windows down and drove home slowly so Deacon didn’t become nauseated.
Deacon’s head rolled to the side, and he closed his eyes. James turned his attention back to the road, checking the mirrors for a tail. There wasn’t one.
When James pulled up in his designated parking spot, he assessed the situation, wondering if he should call Cami. He didn’t, though; Deacon was fiercely protective of letting anyone see his guard down, and that included Samuel and Cami. As far as James knew, he was the only person that Deacon was ever vulnerable with, and even that was rare.
James sighed and then muttered to himself, “At least we have an elevator.”
He walked around the car and opened Deacon’s door.
“Come on, brother. Let’s get you into bed,” James said as Deacon’s eyelids lifted slowly, and he looked around. Nothing in his expression changed. He didn’t seem surprised they were home. James wasn’t sure he could see right now.
He took Deacon’s arm, guiding him out of the car then slinging it over his shoulder. He kicked the door shut and shuffled them toward the elevator. James was panting when they reached it, and his confidence in his ability to pass the physical test that was to come in a few days had diminished. Deacon was going to keep the throne a while yet, but James knew he’d be fit enough to do the Tokyo job regardless.
James punched in their floor number and the doors closed.
Deacon’s head flopped on James’s shoulder. He stared at their reflection in the mirror, questioning whether he’d failed Deacon by not forcing him to deal with Nicole’s death, regardless of his brother’s threats. It had been a long time since he’d brought up Nicole—he hadn’t dared after Paris, because James knew exactly what Deacon’s response would’ve been. James had refused to talk about Paris, and Deacon refused to talk about Nicole. But perhaps a tough-love approach might’ve helped Deacon more forward.
“Come on,” James said, trying to usher Deacon out of the elevator and toward his apartment.
James struggled to keep Deacon upright and hit the wrong code twice before getting it right. Inside, James took him straight to bed. Deacon all but fell onto the mattress, bouncing.
He took off Deacon’s shoes, putting them on the floor. He went to the kitchen and grabbed two bottles of water and a packet of pain relief from Deacon’s medical supply.
He went back to the bedroom to find Deacon asleep. James put the water and meds on the nightstand. He left the bedside light on, in the event Deacon needed to make an urgent dash to the bathroom, and locked the door on his way out.
James entered his own apartment, drawing out his phone as he did.
Mak answered on the second ring. “Hey.”
His pulse quickened at the sound of her voice—she still managed to do that to him. And he hoped she always would. He would never take their relationship for granted, not when he knew how easily it could be lost.
“Hey,” James replied, opening the fridge, searching for a late-night snack. “We’re home.”
“How is he?” Mak asked, the playfulness dropping from her voice.
“He’s going to have a killer headache in the morning,” James said, leaving it at that. “Tell me about your day.”
James listened, wishing Mak were in his kitchen, telling him in person. But tonight he’d needed to be there for Deacon—and Deacon’s night wasn’t necessarily over. The nightmares would still come, and James knew Deacon hated for anyone to hear him screaming, which was unavoidable from James’s bedroom.
If the floors weren’t soundproofed, even Samuel and Cami would’ve heard.
CHAPTER THREE – DEACON
A hammer pounded against his skull, waking him up. He found himself dressed, in his bed, wondering how he got there. He rolled his head to look at the clock on his bedside table, immediately regretting it.
Deacon groaned, pressing his fingers to his temples and squeezing his eyes shut. He focused on his breath, giving the pain a moment to calm down. When he opened his eyes again, he found the goods his fairy godmother had left for him.
Calling James a fairy godmother would’ve made him laugh on any other day, but the pain was so intense that the humor eluded him.
Instead, he willed his body to move, to grab the pills and water calling his name, but the task seemed like the equivalent of running a marathon right now. He closed his eyes again, deciding that sleeping it off was a better option.
When he awoke an hour later, the hammer was still beating his skull like a pendulum and his mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton.
He gave a long sigh and forced his body to reach for the water, shaking as he did. He pushed himself up against the headboard and gulped the contents of the first bottle down without pause. A moment later his stomach clenched, and he prayed it wasn’t going to come back up. He stilled, waiting for it. His body seemed unsure, like it couldn’t make a decision. He popped two pills out of the packet and swallowed them, his stomach clenching again. He groaned. It was going to be a long day, but he was thankful for one thing—to his surprise, the nightmares had stayed away.
Deacon felt like the world was moving in slow motion, but he knew it was just him. When he finally made it to Samuel’s office, it was late morning. James and Samuel were drinking coffee, and he saw a spread of takeaway containers had been laid out in the center of the table.
James looked over his shoulder, pulling a chair out for Deacon. “Morning.”
“Don’t talk,” Deacon said, slumping. He rested his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands.
“Eat; you’ll feel better,” Samuel said.
The water and pills he’d swallowed down this morning had come back up in the shower. He doubted Samuel wanted the same to happen in his office. “Can’t,” Deacon said with a croaky voice.
He didn’t think he’d ever felt this hungover, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever been that drunk. Usually he at least remembered getting home, but his memory of the last half of last night was as blank as a freshly painted wall.
James moved next to him, apparently leaving the room. Deacon didn’t raise his eyes.
I should go back to bed.
He’d tried to convince himself it was better to get up and start moving, but now that seemed like an awfully bad idea.
“Sit back,” James said, startling him.
Had he fallen asleep? Deacon forced his eyes open, eying James’s medical kit and the IV pole. James has a much better idea. Deacon thought with relief.
Deacon settled down in the chair, resting his head on the top of the backrest, and rolled up his sleeve. He felt the pinprick and then whatever drugs James was giving him run up his vein.
“You’ll feel better in a bit,” James said.
Deacon muttered his thanks.
At some point later, he couldn’t be sure how long, Cami’s voice woke him up. Deacon opened one eye and then the other.
“That’s one perk of working for Thomas Security,” she said and took a seat beside him.
“There has to be some perks to this job,” Deacon joked hoarsely. He regretted it immediately—it had taken all of his energy. But he could see the room clearly now, and he felt reasonably confident he wasn’t going to throw up on Samuel’s table.
Cami patted his shoulder. “If drinking like a boozehound a few nights a year is all you do, you’re doing all right.”
Deacon sighed, perusing what was left of the breakfast spread. He settled on a cold toasted sandwich. He took a bite, hesitantly, and when his stomach didn’t clench violently, he cautiously took another. He looked at his watch. In one hour he’d gone from death to death warmed up. Drugs were miraculous things.
“What did I miss?” Deacon asked, not wanting to talk about Nicole.
Samuel massaged his jaw. “The talk of a Saratani renaissance is growing. I’ve intercepted several chats and telephone calls, and I’m attempting to use the voice recognition system to match them to known identities.”
Deacon took the last bite of his sandwich, which he’d all but inhaled, and then scrunched the paper bag into a ball. “If you’re picking up more chatter, doesn’t that mean they’re not using secured devices? How skilled and resourceful are we assuming these guys are?” Deacon asked as he looked for his next snack.
“It’s not these guys I’m worried about,” James said. “If we’re intercepting this, you can bet others are, too. Some of Saratani’s practices were insane, but Eric was an extremely good businessman. The destruction of that organization has opened the door for opportunists to infiltrate and expand the space Saratani had been operating in. That means this group may soon have access to additional resources, or, more likely, they’ll make deals with the wrong men and end up eliminating themselves. That would be the ideal scenario.”
“What are our options for the moment?” Cami asked before stealing half of Deacon’s doughnut and giving him a wink. It was in her mouth before he had time to react. On a good day—a normal day—she’d never have gotten away with that.
“Let’s watch and wait,” James said. “The last thing we need right now is another war. The underground is going to take action and capitalize on the new business opportunities—let’s find out who does and go from there.”
Deacon listened to the conversation, but his mind wasn’t working fast enough to contribute anything of value.
Samuel gave a slight nod. “On another note, Deacon, I’ve arranged the flower delivery for next week.”
“Thanks,” Deacon said. Flowers, he knew, for his mother’s birthday.
The hardest part of living a life on the run was saying goodbye to the people you loved. To family. To this day he didn’t know exactly what his mother had been told about his disappearance. The military likely said he had been killed in action. Like James, like Cami, like Samuel, they were all “deceased” on paper, their bodies “unrecoverable.” But after Samuel had come into their lives, and could safely send a bouquet of flowers without being tracked, every year he had sent an arrangement of 200 white tulips to his mother. Her favorite flower. He wouldn’t risk making contact with her, but he hoped the flowers gave her hope that her son was alive and well.
His father—well, he thought bitterly, his father he cared less about.
CHAPTER FOUR – JAMES
James’s chest heaved as he leaned over, resting his palms on his knees. He fought back the rolling waves of nausea as he gave his body time to recover. Droplets of sweat ran down his forearms. His fitness had improved, but he was not where he wanted to be—he still had work to do before he reclaimed his throne.
Deacon wasn’t training with him tonight, which was to be expected. They’d spent the remaining morning in Samuel’s office before actually going to their own offices to work. Deacon had barely said a word, which wasn’t surprising given his hangover, but James thought there was more going on with his brother. He’d noticed the changes in him recently—the haunted flicker in Deacon’s eyes that was now less of a rare occurrence than it had been over recent years. James sensed that Deacon’s mental control of his emotions was finally slipping, slowly but surely.
He knew his own relationship with Mak contributed to that, and he sometimes felt guilty because of it. He’d never wanted a relationship, but now he had one. Deacon should’ve had the life he had been living, and although neither of them had ever said it, James thought Deacon had to have thought the same thing more than once even though he’d never shown any bitterness toward James. Disapproval, yes—but never bitterness.
He wiped a towel over his body, removing a layer of thick sweat and went in search of his brother. He wasn’t going to bring up Nicole, not after last night, but he could at least keep him company. He nodded goodbye to the staff members using the gym and went to Samuel’s office. He poked his head in, but Deacon wasn’t there. He rang his cell phone, but he didn’t answer. He wasn’t in his apartment, his office, or on the rooftop. Perhaps he didn’t want to be found.
James sighed and instead returned to Samuel’s office.
“Any leads on Marianne’s case?” James asked as he pulled out a chair and tucked it in beneath him.
“Actually, I received a few identification matches this afternoon, but I don’t know if they’re going to lead us anywhere,” Samuel said, his fingers fluttering over the keyboard.
James shrugged. “Let’s have a look.” He turned his gaze toward the wall of monitors.
The screen flickered before a man with a pissed-off gaze appeared, looking back at them. His crew cut and chiseled jawline didn’t help his expression.
“This lovely man,” Samuel joked, “was on the receiving end of one of the telephone calls. His name is Simon Salot. He has a string of petty crime charges, the last one dating back thirteen years. I won’t assume he’s cleaned up his life, but rather I believe he has simply gotten smarter about his criminal dealings.”
“Any known mafia or gang associations?” James asked, studying the man’s face. Nothing about him sparked a sense of familiarity.
“No, nothing yet. But like I said, the last few years he’s been quiet, which means I’m going to have to dig deeper,” Samuel said before changing the image.
The next one was of a woman, who looked to be about thirty years old. Like the man before her, her record was unimpressive, but she did have one identifying mark.
“Is that tattoo behind her ear significant?” James asked.
Samuel pushed his glasses up the ridge of his nose, adjusting them.
“No, not that I can tell. Number three . . .” Samuel said, loading the photograph on the screen.
James’s eyebrows creased. “Which one?” he asked, looking at the surveillance shot taken in what looked to be an airport.
“Him,” Samuel said, moving a cursor over the man browsing the bookstore.
The air vanished from his lungs. “Zoom in,” James demanded.
He leaned forward instinctively, his eyes narrowing as his heart thundered in his chest.
“What? Who is it?” Samuel asked. His eyes widened as if he were in imminent danger.
James couldn’t tear his eyes away. “Has Deacon seen this?”
“Have I seen what?” Deacon asked from behind him.
THE RANGER is available now! Get it here:
I had a lot of fun talking to the guys of The Adelaide Show Podcast a few nights ago and the episode is available to download now on iTunes!
We covered everything: writing routines, character development, where my ideas come from, harsh reviews and writing sex scenes…
I did a lot of giggling, a lot of talking, and even had a nice glass of wine 🙂 Thank you Steve and Nigel for the opportunity to talk about my writing process and the James Thomas series.
Download it or listen to it here:
There were a lot of questions that came through about the James Thomas Series, so this second part of the Q&A covers them all:
Q: Why did you choose Iceland as James’ favorite place?
Q: Of the books you’ve written, which one is your favorite?
Q: Will we find out what James did to the Russians?
Q: Will Deacon find happiness again?
Q: Will we find out more about Cami’s past?
Q: Why doesn’t Samuel like to leave the Thomas Security HQ?
Q: Are you going to kill off any of the characters from the James Thomas series?
Today I’m answering your questions!
Q: How do you pronounce Jayce?
Q: How long does it take to write a book?
Q: How do you choose the titles of your books?
Q: When will the novella be released?
Q: Do you have a favorite character?
Q: Do you have any writing rituals?
Q: How many books in the James Thomas series?
Q: Will you write another spin-off series?
Q: What are your favorite parts of the book to write?
Q: Do you listen to music when writing?
Brooke takes you behind-the-scenes during the launch week of SARQUIS.