Excerpt: Women Under Fire

Excerpt: Women Under Fire

Book 2: Grayce Walters Series


Angie stood motionless in the shadow of a misshapen cypress tree. The setting summer sun of Seattle didn’t relieve the cold frisson of danger or the press of her revolver’s cold metal against her skin. Although it had been months since her last reconnaissance mission, her body recognized the drill and tightened into high alert.

Splatters of fading sunlight danced across the sagging house. Official yellow tape was wrapped around the turn of the century beauty like a Christmas bow on a crushed, forgotten present. A “condemned” sign was nailed to the warped door. The crumbling front steps looked like their weight bearing days were a distant memory.

Not sure how to proceed, she waited and watched the abandoned house in the residential Ravenna neighborhood until it got dark. Should she take the squatters unaware? Surprise Maddy before she could run?

She moved from her hiding place to investigate the back of the house. The yard was littered with broken glass, smashed Styrofoam carryout containers, and plastic bags mired in mud from the wet Northwest summer. She stepped over the yellow tape that was haphazardly hung around the back steps, turned the handle, and then pulled open the back door. It was unlocked. The rusting hinges screeched.

“Maddy, it’s Angie from your VA group.” She reverted to her forceful military command voice. “I’m coming in.”

When the door was thrown wide open, small dark bodies—rats—scurried away. Dread raced down her spine into the tips of her toes. God, she hated rats. This rat hole was worse than anything she had seen during her tours of duty in Afghanistan.

She stepped gingerly over the bags of garbage strewn on the uneven linoleum floor. The smell of the years of neglect and black mold hit her sensitive nose. She tried not to breathe. All of her senses heightened in the darkness, an internal radar honed from door-to-door urban combat. She took another two steps, listening for sounds other than the resident rodents.

“It’s Angie from your VA group.” She wasn’t too worried about handling a high Maddy, but handling her companions might get tricky. After eight years as a Marine, she was used to tricky. And after everything Maddy had gone through in Afghanistan, Angie wasn’t about to let her friend descend into another hell.

She reached in the pocket of her jeans for her tiny penlight as she walked into the dark dining room. The light of her flashlight reflected back at her from a cracked mirror hanging over the fireplace, then a sudden, shiny motion. Before she could react, a bright burst of pain exploded in her head. She fought against overpowering blackness.

* * *

Brandon knew his lair had been invaded. The back door was ajar. The yellow “condemned” tape had been disrupted. Trespassers!

He heard her before he saw her. She was shouting that she was “Angie from the VA.”

Another fucking bitch intruding. Women were always invading his space. Outrage surged through him.

“Keep it together…keep it together…” He repeated the words to himself. His therapist had taught him to use words to pace himself before he acted.

Taking the heavy flashlight from its hiding place behind the refrigerator, he stepped softly into the dining room. He edged around the bags to avoid alerting the intruder to his presence.

A tall woman in a camouflage jacket was bending over, inspecting something on the floor.

Why was a single soldier from the VA hospital searching his house? If the authorities had been alerted about the amount of RDX he had stored here, the entire King County Swat team would’ve been surrounding the house, with help from those ATF Keystone commandos. If you could call that help.

He had no choice. He needed time to clear out.

He cautiously took two steps to stand over her. He slowly raised the flashlight, and she gasped, seeing his reflection in the old mirror that Brandon knew hung over the fireplace. Using his advantage, he swung in a wide arc and bashed the back of her head with all his strength.

Chapter One

Ambushed by Aunt Aideen, Grayce Walters was trapped. The bonds of social pressure gripped tighter around her wrists and ankles, holding her captive in the kitchen chair. She couldn’t escape tonight’s séance.

Dressed in a flowing cobalt-blue caftan, Aunt Aideen ceremoniously placed a scarred, black box on the table and then carefully opened a chest lined in red velvet and raised a glimmering crystal ball into the air. “This Keek-Stane has been passed down through generations of Scottish witches.”

The enormous kitchen suddenly went airless. Grayce gulped for a breath. Mitzi, who had been sleeping under the table, protectively covered Grayce’s feet with her paws.

Grayce knew nothing about tarot cards or witches. Why hadn’t Davis warned her that his aunt considered herself a witch? Grayce had recognized Aunt Aideen as a gifted intuitive, but not a witch, whatever that meant.

Aunt Aideen placed the ball in the center of the table spread with tarot cards. “The Keek-Stane guides me in the reading of the cards.”

A call to a suspicious fire had interrupted the cozy dinner with her boyfriend, his aunt and dog. If Davis had stayed, she’d be eating dessert instead of having a metaphysical experience.

Aunt Aideen’s enormous moonstone ring flickered in the candlelight as her hand hovered over the cards. “We must look to the future.”

Grayce couldn’t see the card. She felt light-headed from the burning sweet flag incense or from the ominous energy swirling from the crystal ball.

As she turned over the first tarot card, the large woman’s usual booming voice grew quiet with a mysterious Gaelic lilt. “The Knight of Swords.”

Prickly sensations lifted the fine hair on Grayce’s neck. Mitzi came from under the table and sat next to Grayce’s chair.

Aunt Aideen opened her massive hand to allow Grayce to see the card—a medieval knight in armor on a powerful white horse rode toward a battle in the distance. The horse’s harness was decorated with butterflies and birds. The sky behind him was filled with storm clouds and the trees, tossed wildly by the wind. The knight resembled St. Michael the Archangel.

“The Knight of Swords is hard to resist,” Aunt Aideen intoned.

Davis obviously fit the Knight of Swords. His commanding presence, physical strength, and his commitment to fight crimes made him the perfect archetypal hero.

Heat moved across Grayce’s cheeks in embarrassment. “Davis was hard to resist.” Grayce knew first hand. As a witness to arson, she had been interviewed by the sexy fire investigator and had fallen in love with the irresistible man.

“My nephew, Ewan Davis, is in no way a Knight of Swords. Davis is an Emperor, a man of the logical world, like his Scottish forebears. The Knight of Swords is a messenger, a call for adventure. He does not see, nor does he care about risks or dangers and instead moves forward with his strong determination and strength to succeed, no matter what.

Grayce wasn’t going to discuss Davis’ ability as an adventurous lover with the aunt who had raised him after his mother’s death.

“The knight will call to you from your dreams.” Aunt Aideen’s solemn voice and the shimmering moonstone known for clairvoyance were doing strange things to Grayce’s perceptions. The images in the room faded in and out. The heightened energy from the ball moved in undulating waves.

“His call will challenge you to leave your present way of being.” Aunt Aideen’s eyes were in the shadows, but Grayce felt her focused stare. “The Knight of Swords can also be seen as a warning.”

With the soft burr of Aunt Aideen’s Scottish inflection, the wavering candlelight and the nutty scent of sweet flag, Grayce was floating into deep relaxation.

Aunt Aideen’s voice lost its soothing rhythm. “And it doesn’t take a seer to predict that Davis will have trouble with the knight’s appearance in your life. Davis needs to be your protector.”

Grayce came immediately out of her meditative state. Davis tried very hard to control his fear of unforeseen disasters by guarding all those he loved.

“Does the knight have to be human? Maybe I’ll have a new patient?” Grayce asked.

Aunt Aideen kept her eyes closed. Her muted voice was firm. “I see a tall, dark man in a uniform. He holds a gun.”

Shivers of fear danced on Grayce’s skin.

Aunt Aideen’s lowered voice vibrated with intensity. “I see difficulty and danger ahead for you and Davis.”

Alarm rushed through Grayce, making her legs rubbery and weak behind her knees although she was seated. Mitzi pushed her cold wet nose against Grayce’s hand. Aunt Aideen wasn’t the kind of woman to predict gloom and doom.

Aunt Aideen’s head was bent. Her hands floated above the table then stilled over a card. “As I suspected, the High Priestess card.” The moonstone flashed, sending sparks of light across the raised card. The High Priestess was seated on a throne, a blond Madonna wrapped in blue moonlight.

With her eyes closed, Aunt Aideen placed her hand with the moonstone ring on the High Priestess card. “You will accept the knight’s dangerous adventure and restore the needed balance in a disturbed world.” Aunt Aideen’s fierce voice pulsed in the room.

Grayce’s intuition flared. She had the same foreboding, a prescience of danger just like before she had tangled with the Russian mob. She fought against the rising dread. “I’m leaving the danger to Davis. The arson case was enough violence for a lifetime.”

“The cards don’t lie.” Aunt Aideen’s strident tone reverberated in Grayce’s head.

Grayce had visions, but she never shared them with anyone. She’s never dared to predict the future. Life was expected to be complicated—especially when facing a big decision—or maybe something even more dangerous… But what good could come of knowing ahead of time that suffering and pain were going to overwhelm your life?

Aunt Aideen opened her eyes and looked around the room as if she didn’t recognize her own Italian tiled kitchen. She looked at Grayce for a second as if she didn’t recognize her either.

Aunt Aideen had been in a deep trance when she made her predictions. The older woman had spent years studying the ancient practices in Tibet and India.

“Would you like me to get you something? A glass of water?” Grayce asked.

“No thank you. I’m exhausted. Your cards are very intense.” The older woman stood quickly, but her hand trembled when she placed the crystal ball in the box. “Enough perilous predictions for tonight. Davis is going to be very unhappy with me.”

Davis wouldn’t be mad at the aunt he loved. He teased her about the tarot card readings because he didn’t know his aunt was a gifted seer.

“Let me walk you to the door.” Aunt Aideen gestured to the door. They walked in silence except for the sound of Mitzi’s nails clicking on the tiled floor.

Like her nephew, Aunt Aideen was over six feet tall and had to bend to hug Grayce. “The predictions will help you prepare. You are very strong. You and Davis will protect each other in the approaching storm.”