Men of Fire Beach bundle Audiobook
Men of Fire Beach bundle Audiobook
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Cara Hunter let the warm wind blow in the open window as she drove down the interstate in her red Ford Mustang. Her left hand drifted up to adjust her sunglasses, as her right tapped on the steering wheel, the rhythm close to the one blaring out of her radio. A smile played across her lips as she thought of seeing Steve again. She only came this way once a month, but it was her favorite day each month. Though she enjoyed running the bed and breakfast in Fire Beach, she missed working closely with Steve.
Perhaps it was the military regimen or the added sense of security that she missed the most, but Steve’s dry sense of humor topped the list as well. Besides, doing the research on her own was not only lonely, but living the double life was beginning to take its toll on her. She’d noticed that in the mirror this morning as she got dressed. There were definitely more wrinkles around her eyes and a deeper crease in her forehead than there had been a year ago when she’d been forced to leave the base and create a secret identity in Fire Beach.
At first, she hadn’t minded. It had been good to see Jordan again, and the bed and breakfast provided some relief from her other work. The work that consumed her nights and invaded her dreams. Even during the day, it kept her on edge. She had been forced to keep a tight circle of friends for fear of never knowing who she could trust, but she knew she could trust Steve. She could relax and be herself around him. These once a month visits were the only times she felt like she wasn’t lying to everyone around her. The only time the tension truly melted from her shoulders even as they discussed mortality rates and vaccine issues. She just hoped he had found more than she had.
The last few weeks had been one setback after another. Of course, she wasn’t dealing with the live virus strands or the rats - Steve had taken that on - but mapping the epitopes was no walk in the park either. It was just a little safer.
She slowed the car as she reached the turnoff for his street. Smiling, she wondered if he would have dressed today. He hadn’t the last time she’d come, and she’d been shocked when he opened the door wearing SpongeBob pajama pants and an old Army shirt. He’d explained that since he’d left the base and rarely seemed to leave his house, he’d taken to only changing out of his pajamas for showers which she was almost certain had become fewer and farther between. He had always been eccentric, but the loneliness and stress had certainly taken a strange toll on him. She wondered what his neighbors thought of him.
As she parked the car a few spots from his door, a weird tingling sensation shot down her spine. On instinct, she turned the engine off and scanned the area looking for anything out of place and listening for any noise that didn’t belong. Other than the silence that seemed thicker today than normal, nothing appeared contrary to how it usually was. Perhaps the stress was getting to her too.
She grabbed her laptop bag and headed toward his house. He’d picked a nondescript rambler in the middle of a residential neighborhood. “To blend in better,” he’d said. She supposed it worked. Sometimes hiding in plain sight was better than hiding anywhere else.
After a final scan of the surrounding area, she knocked softly on Steve’s door. “Steve, are you in here?” A feeling of unease washed over her as it creaked open. Steve never left his door unlocked. Like her, he was paranoid of being caught doing his research. Even though they’d been sanctioned by the military, what they were doing could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. It was something she worried about every day, and she’d had enough conversations with Steve to know the fear had taken residence in his mind too.
She should turn around right now. Or call Jordan. At least if she had a detective with her, she wouldn’t be blamed for whatever she might find inside, but she had to know. Careful not to touch anything more, she nudged the door open a little farther with her elbow.
The unease burgeoned into terror as she took in the room. Or what was left of it. Furniture had been shredded and lay upended across the room. Drawers hung like broken arms from the desk. Books and papers littered the floor, and an eerie silence filled the room. How she wished she had more than the small knife concealed in her boot.
The desire to call Steve’s name again burned in her throat, but she clamped her jaws shut. Though it felt as if whoever had done this was gone, alerting them to her presence would be reckless if they were still in the house.
Instead, she took cautious steps around the mess, careful not to step on anything and leave footprints. As she did, she looked for any prints that might have been left by the perpetrator. It hadn’t rained lately, so the chances were slim but even an indention on a piece of paper would help.
The living room opened to a kitchen which was equally messy. All the drawers had been emptied on the floor and the cabinet doors gaped open like hungry mouths. Someone had obviously been looking for something, and Cara knew they had probably found it.
Steve kept most of his research in a hidden closet in his bedroom, but if whoever had done this was this thorough, it was unlikely they hadn’t found the room. She just hoped Steve hadn’t been home when they had.
Exiting the kitchen, she proceeded carefully down the hallway. Steve’s house was small - just a single bedroom after he and his wife had split up. That left only two more doors - the bathroom and the bedroom. Both doors were open, and Cara glanced quickly in the sparse bathroom before continuing to the bedroom.
Fear, rage, and disgust battled for her dominant emotion as she nudged the bedroom door open further and saw Steve lying face down on the bed. The puddle of brick-colored liquid surrounding him left no doubt that he was dead, and the open door to his secret closet at the other end of the room confirmed her suspicion that his research was gone.
There was no reason to stay any longer. She needed to get out of there before any of the neighbors saw her and tried to pin this murder on her.
Retracing her steps, Cara exited the house and climbed back in her car. The composure she had worked so hard to contain while in the house crumbled as her door shut. Tremors took over her body as she grappled with the knowledge. Someone had killed Steve. Was she next?
Her hand shook as she fumbled to get the key in the ignition. She needed to call Jordan and have him send someone to the scene, but first she needed to call Malone. She had to know if he knew and what he was going to do to protect her.
She punched in his personal number before throwing the car into reverse and backing away from the crime scene. Every nerve in her body wanted her to flee, press the gas and roar out of the area, but that would only draw unwanted attention. Attention she didn’t need.
“Cara? What’s going on?” The concern in Malone’s deep voice resonated through her car, but it did nothing to calm her racing heart.
“Steve’s dead.” Choked with emotion, the strangled words hardly sounded like her voice.
“He’s dead. I stopped in for our monthly meetup, but I was too late. Someone beat me there. They trashed the place, killed Steve, and stole the research.” Her hands gripped the steering wheel, the color in her knuckles fading to a dull white.
“Are you sure they got the research?”
Cara glanced down at her phone briefly as if glaring at it could send her ire to Malone. How could he sound so calm when she had just told him a member of their team was dead? And why did he appear more interested in the research than the man’s life?
“Well, I didn’t paw through everything and leave my fingerprints all over the place, but the house was trashed. His secret room was open. I have no doubt they found everything they were looking for. Do you even care about Steve?”
Malone’s sigh echoed through her speakers. “Of course I do, but I don’t have to remind you Cara that our work is important. We’re talking about saving lives.”
“Right now we ought to be thinking about endangering lives. Steve had samples of the virus and mice that may or may not have been infected which means someone else now has them, and we have no idea what they plan to do with them. What if they come after me? Geez, Malone, how did they even know to come after Steve?” The questions tumbled out of her mouth like drips from a leaky faucet, but for each one she voiced, a dozen more scrambled for space in her brain.
“I don’t know, Cara. I will look into it. For now, stay safe and see if you can get a breakthrough on that vaccine.”
She wanted to ask him how exactly she was supposed to do that, but before she could say anything more, the click of him hanging up the phone reverberated through the car. She was on her own.
Well, not entirely on her own. She had Jordan and the rest of her friends in Fire Beach. They didn’t know about her secret life, but she had no doubt they would help her out when she told them. She just had to make it back home.
Lorana Hoopes is a USA Today Best Selling Author and now an Award Winning Author as well. She's had two books earn a Page Turner Award Finalist badge and she recently won the Reader's Favorite Book Award for Romantic Suspense.