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ZERO ESCAPE (PAPERBACK)

ZERO ESCAPE (PAPERBACK)

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PAPERBACK

To survive, Charlene must accept that her whole life was a lie.

Fiercely independent, lifelong nomad, Charlene Bailey, thought witnessing a woman murder her dad was the worst moment of her life. Until the police dropped the bombshell that the man she’d known as her father wasn’t related to her at all. Worse still, they believed she was a kidnap victim.

One minute Marshall Crow was a special warfare combatant, executing risky missions in treacherous environments. Next minute his body packed in, he was booted out of the navy, and he was taking useless tourists on fishing charters in Key West. And hating every minute.

Until Charlene, a mysterious beauty crippled with secrets, enlists him to smuggle her into Havana, Cuba. Marshall knows it’s a bad idea, but he can’t refuse the gorgeous, albeit stubborn wildcat.

When her reckless quest for answers results in her kidnapping, Marshall bulldozes every enemy to save her. But what he never expected was for Charlene to save him.

"The Bourne Identity meets Mission Impossible. I read this book in one day as I could hardly put it down.  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Patricia D

“This book was fast paced, intense with some great twists, lots of bodies and a strong, kick-ass main character. An enjoyable romantic suspense novel, Zero Escape is one I recommend.” ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Brenda Telford.

“This novel is full of heart pounding action, deep family secrets, blackmail, and murder. Once I started reading, I could not put it down.” ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Kenneth Lingenfelter

“So many twists and turns, full of suspense and overwhelming fear it took my breath away. I loved everything about this novel.” ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Gayle.

PAPERBACK BOOK DETAILS:

  • ISBN: 9781923194120
  • SIZE: 5 X 8
  • PAGE COUNT: 370 pages
  • GENRE - Romantic Suspense

FAQS - Chapter look inside

Chapter 1
Sorrow coiled in Charlene’s heart as she inched toward her father’s body on the metal slab. The pungent air crackled with the stillness about her, and her bones sagged with an emptiness deep in her soul.
Her father didn’t look peaceful.
She should’ve expected that, given the way he’d died. The stubble in his beard was longer than usual, and she was surprised at how many gray whiskers he had. Lips that had always been quick to smile were tinged the color of acid-washed denim.
His almond-colored eyes were closed, destined to remain that way forever.
With trembling hands, she curled her fingers beneath the seam of the white sheet concealing his body and eased it down from his neck. Fighting the quiver in her chin, she stared at the jagged knife wound in his chest. It was surprisingly small considering the amount of blood that’d gushed from it.
Charlene squeezed her eyes shut, trying to force the brutal attack from her mind. But it was there to stay. Every precise second was permanently etched into her memory.
The woman who’d stabbed him was a stunning brunette with olive skin and fierce brown eyes.
She’d looked petrified.
Clearly her father and the woman had known each other, but Charlene had never seen her before. They’d argued in Spanish. Charlene didn’t speak any other languages, and she’d had no idea her father did either.
When the woman had grabbed her father’s steak knife, Charlene had seen the look in his eyes. It wasn’t fear. It was resignation. Like he’d always expected that moment to one day come.
Shaking the recollections free, she opened her eyes and touched his forearm, just as she’d done a thousand times over, except this time she had to resist recoiling at the cold beneath his flesh. As a single tear trickled down her cheek, she wondered if their past had finally caught up to them.
Twenty-two years it’d taken.
Twenty-two years since her father had whisked her away in the middle of the night.
Twenty-two years since she’d last seen her mother.
They’d moved to twice as many cities in that time. Just the two of them.
Charlene inhaled the tangy disinfectant and the emptiness around her. “What am I going to do?” Even her voice sounded hollow, lacking in emotion.
Life as drifters had meant she had no friends.
Her time with her mother was nothing but a whispered dream. Her father never did tell her what happened when she was six years old. And after a while, she’d stopped asking. In fact, she’d often wondered if it was just a silly childhood nightmare.
Now she was all alone.
The enormity of it had hit her yesterday when the police started asking questions.
Her father had no identification. No driver’s license. No credit cards. Not even a Social Security card. Just a small amount of cash and the key to their rented apartment. It hadn’t surprised her.
The police, however, had implied that it was abnormal. Deceitful even. Charlene had explained away all their questions, yet Detective Chapel had looked at her like she was hiding something.
She’d learned to live with inquisitive gazes; she’d been the new student at twenty or so schools. Being the stranger in a crowd was completely normal.
The door cracked open, and the sound ricocheted about the room like a bullet. She jolted at the interruption and turned. Detective Chapel had a look of sorrow that for some reason seemed forced . . . too practiced. She flicked the tears from her cheeks and stepped back from her father’s lifeless form.
“Ms. Bailey, are you okay?”
Charlene swallowed the lump burning in her throat and shook her head. Okay? His question was ludicrous. Nothing will ever be okay again. Ever. She turned back to her father’s body and through her murky tears scanned his face. Finally, she nodded. “Yes.”
When she turned to look into Chapel’s eyes, she had a strange feeling he didn’t believe her account of what happened. She blinked and tried but failed to cast the unfounded feeling aside. “What happens now?”
“If you’re up to it, we’d like to ask you a few more questions.”
She glanced at her father one last time, hardly able to believe what she was seeing. He’d always been full of life . . . the first to try out a dish he couldn’t pronounce at a restaurant or jump off the bus to explore a new vista.
He taught her to appreciate the sunrise and the glow of the moon over the ocean. His days were long and his nights short in his attempts to squeeze the life out of every second.
All that had been stolen with the slice of a blade.
She bit her lip in an attempt to halt her quivering chin, and before she succumbed to the burgeoning tears again, she allowed Chapel to lead her from the morgue.
Charlene wasn’t sure if the odors inside the police interview room were any better than the sterile atmosphere of the morgue.
Detective Chapel attempted to placate her with offers of coffee and sandwiches, but the idea of eating was repulsive. The last food she’d had were the spicy buffalo wings she’d shared with her father. It was impossible to believe that would be their last meal together.
“Charlene.” Detective Chapel pinched the skin on the back of his hand. “We’re sorry to do this so soon after your father’s death, but the quicker we have answers, the more likely we are to catch his killer.”
She nodded and moved her tongue around her mouth, trying to produce moisture. “I understand.”
He flipped open a notebook and rolled a page to the back of the spiral. “So, you said you’d only arrived in New Orleans three weeks ago, is that correct?”
“Yes.”
“Where’d you come from?”
“Chicago.”
“And why did you move?”
She shrugged. “For work.” It was the same reason they’d moved nearly every six months or so for as long as she could remember.
“What work did Peter do?”
“Whatever was available, really.”
“What job did he have here?”
“He was working as a gardener at Paradise Spring Hotel on Magazine Street.”
Chapel jotted the details on his notepad. “We’ll have a chat with them. Do you know any reason why someone would want to kill him?”
She’d been asking herself the same question every waking moment since the woman had fled with the knife in her hand. “No. He was gentle and kind. Everyone loved him.” She sniffed back a sob.
“Have you thought about the woman who murdered him? Can you tell us anything else?”
She’d done nothing but think of that woman. It horrified her how little she could recall. “It happened so quickly. Isn’t there any video footage?”
“Oh, we wish. But no, there’s no footage.” He cocked his head, and his left eye narrowed, looking at her even harder.
Charlene’s chest squeezed at his intense gaze. When his eyes darkened even further, her gut churned. It suddenly occurred to her that she might be a suspect. “What about the waiter, and the other people in the restaurant, and that bus stop outside? Someone must’ve seen something.”
“We’re interviewing everyone at the moment.”
Her thoughts again turned to the woman who’d stabbed her father . . . her brunette hair, pulled into a high pony tail that flung from side to side as she snapped her eyes from Charlene to her father.
The fire in her eyes that blazed both fear and bravado.
Her white knuckles as she’d clutched the steak knife.
The visible throb of pulse in her slender neck.
The pause. That moment when she’d stopped for a split second, frozen with apparent indecision, the blade aimed at her father.
Yet Charlene couldn’t remember anything else. Not what the attacker had been wearing. If she’d had jewelry or tattoos. She couldn’t even remember the woman approaching their table.
One minute, Charlene and her father were deciding whose turn it was to stock up the fridge; the next second, the brunette was screaming at her father in a foreign language.
“Do you have anyone you can stay with?” Chapel interrupted her tumbling thoughts.
“What?”
“Is there anyone you can stay with?”
She lowered her eyes. “No.”
“Family?”
“I don’t have anyone.”
His brows bounced together, his eyes narrowed, and again she had the impression he thought she was lying. He tapped his pen on the table, sounding out a metallic heartbeat. “What about your mother?”
Her brain screamed at her to run. But she fought the panic as her mind flitted from one possible response to the next. The vice that was clamped around her chest squeezed tighter.
Insecurity crept in like a thorny vine.
Her pause had his unfounded guilty glare darkening, and it was a couple of thumping heartbeats before she decided the truth was the best response.
She raised her eyes to Chapel and met his gaze. “I haven’t seen my mother since I was six.”
“Hmm.” His pen tapping stopped. His eyebrows nudged upward. “What about friends? Do you know anyone here?”
“No.”
“Is there anyone who can stay with you?”
“No. I don’t know anyone.”
His brows drilled together this time, and when his pen tapping got faster, she felt the need to clarify. “We moved around a lot.”
“A lot . . . how often is a lot?” The pen stopped, and somehow the silence was worse.
“Usually every six months or so.”
“Hmm. It would help us to piece things together if you retraced the last few years. Start with what you did in Chicago.”
* * *
As Charlene listed her and her father’s recent moves, Chapel jotted notes on his notepad. The scratching of his pen was as harsh as a nail being scraped down a board.
But the silence when he stopped was worse.
So she continued, blurting out one detail after another. Her mind danced to a game she and her father always played while on a road trip. It was a memory game. She’d say something like: we were eating ice cream on a pier, and a child flew a red kite into the railing right beside us. Where were we? Her father would have to answer.
He’d then ask her a question about somewhere they’d been. They could do it for hours. Recalling where they’d been or something unique they’d seen.
She’d never play that game again.
“Wow, you do travel around.” Chapel yanked her back from that horrific thought as he flipped the page. “Do you know if Peter retained his bank statements?”
She blinked at him, suddenly nervous about her response. But once again, the longer she paused, the guiltier she felt. “We don’t have bank accounts.”
He sucked air through his teeth and leaned back on his chair. “That’s highly unusual, Charlene.”
“Dad didn’t trust the banks with his money. So we only ever used cash.”
“You never had a bank account either? Credit card?”
“No. And I never needed one either.”
“What about wages?”
“Cash.”
He pinched the back of his hand again. “Rent?”
She huffed. “Everybody loves cash.”
“Well, that’s interesting.”
“Interesting how?” She had no idea what he was implying, but the look on his face confirmed he was suggesting something. And it wasn’t good.
“Most people who don’t use bank accounts stash their money somewhere. Under a mattress. In the wardrobe.”
Charlene huffed out a laugh. “You’re implying that we have surplus cash. We earned enough to pay the rent, buy food, and occasionally have a treat. That’s it.”
“Maybe Peter’s killer thought he did?”
The grin fell from Charlene’s face. “I can assure you we didn’t have extra cash.”
“Did you know Peter didn’t have a driver’s license?”
“Yes. He never had a need for one.”
“What about his Social Security number? Do you know it?”
Her father didn’t have a Social Security number. Neither did she. “No! Why would I?” It wasn’t a complete lie.
Her heart leapt to her throat at Chapel’s glare. Her father had ranted many a time about remaining untethered to any government programs.
He was stubborn like that.
But after hours of implications from Chapel, she couldn’t help but wonder if he’d had an ulterior motive.
Was he keeping us off the grid for a different reason?

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