Off the Edge (The Associates)

Off the Edge

SHE MAY BE HIS WORST ENEMY…

For deadly secret agent Peter Macmillan, language is a weapon—one he uses to hunt criminals, destroy plots, and charm enemies. Seducing information out of a beautiful singer in a Bangkok hotel should be easy…except this particular singer has the power to destroy his cool façade, and with it, his last defense against a dark past.

HE MAY BE HER ONLY HOPE…

He tricked her. He helped himself to her body and her secrets. He has enemies everywhere. Laney Lancaster should hate Peter, but when she discovers him shirtless, sweaty, and chained up in the hotel’s dungeon, all she can think about is freeing him. Because she knows what it’s like to be trapped and alone. And she could use a dangerous friend.

They may be wrong for each other, but the instant they join forces, Laney and Peter are plunged into an odyssey of hot sex and dark danger. To survive, they must trust each other with their lives—and their hearts.

Off the Edge

Copyright ©2013 by Carolyn Crane.

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

Cover art: Amber Shah of Bookbeautiful

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or business establishments, organizations or locales is completely coincidental.

ISBN: 978-0-9883131-2-5

ISBN: 0988313125

Off the Edge

by

 

CAROLYN CRANE

 

To my readers—all you crazy, fabulous, wonderful word lovers!
 

CHAPTER ONE

Bangkok, Thailand

 

Laney Lancaster avoided the restaurant host’s patient gaze, trying to think what to say, hyper-aware that he was waiting, one hand on the back of the chair she was to sit in. The Hungry Steer was one of the best places to get authentic steak in all of Bangkok and this kind host had led her to a lovely little window table. An orchid stood sweetly in a vase at the center of it, and the view of bustling Nakhon Chaisi Road was amazing.

To anybody else, it would look like the best table in the place.

To Laney it looked like Russian roulette.

She was quite familiar with the game. It always used to be Russian roulette whenever her ex-husband Rolly beckoned her over to his easy chair, because there’d be no telling whether he meant to hit her or kiss her. It was Russian roulette back when she used to report him to the local cops for battery, because you never knew which ones were in his pocket. It was Russian Roulette whenever she’d try to escape him, because it might mean freedom, but it could just as easily mean the horror of being dragged back to him after defying him. It had been Russian roulette when she’d helped that FBI agent gather evidence to put Rolly in prison, because it was either the end of her problems or the beginning of worse ones.

Laney was so done with Russian roulette.


Khap khun maak na kha tae wa chan yaak nang nai thee nang khang lang maak kwa
,” she said, thanking him profusely and asking to sit in the back. She pointed to a table in the dark corner near the EXIT sign. The host shot her a questioning glance. She gave him a sunny smile. Always best just to smile.

He led her to the gloomier but safer corner.


Khap khun na kha,
” she said with a little nod. An ultra-polite thanks.

When the waiter came by, Laney gave him her order plus money for the bill and tip all at once. This got her another questioning look. She responded with another sunny smile. What could she say? She was the kind of gal who liked to flee a restaurant with a clear conscience.

A full two years she’d been in Bangkok with no sign of Rolly’s thugs, but you never relaxed your guard with Rolly and his thugs.

A friend had once suggested that Rolly was the wrong name for him, because it rhymed with jolly. But actually that happy echo was what made the name perfect. Rolly was the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing—or python in sheep’s clothing, as Rolly would likely put it. Rolly charmed you with his smiles and money and manners, and once you realized he was squeezing the life out of you, it was too late.

Rolly was so powerful that even being in an Arkansas prison couldn’t stop his muscular and veiny arm from circling the globe in pursuit of her.

Even dining outside the safety of the hotel where she’d lived and worked these past two years was a gamble, but it was her birthday, dammit! And she was careful, wearing her hat and tinted glasses and taking the gloomy back table.

It was just as she was digging into her mushroom ribeye that she saw Harken, Rolly’s right-hand thug, enter the restaurant and walk up to the host’s stand.

She nearly dropped her fork.

She couldn’t be sure it was Harken—she only caught a flash of his face before he turned, but you didn’t wait around with a man like Harken.

You ran.

She pulled her hat low over her ears and rose from her seat—
slowly.
Fast movements attracted attention.

She strolled casually toward the back EXIT sign, heading down the dark little hall beyond it, picking up her pace.

She passed a little door set into the wall and continued on, heart racing. It had to be him. Even the way he stood had set off alarm bells, and you had to trust alarm bells. Sometimes alarm bells were your only friends.

She rushed on, dismayed that there was no corresponding EXIT sign at the end of the long, poorly lit hallway. Thais were a whole lot less keen on safety rules than Americans; it was actually unusual even to see an American-style EXIT sign. Thai restaurants didn’t typically have those.

It was when she felt the tickle of a cobweb over her cheeks that it dawned on her that the EXIT sign might have been put up for ambience, just as Americans sometimes put up signs with Asian writing, not knowing the meaning. A brightly lit EXIT sign. Festive!

When she felt the floor sag with rot, her belly twisted with that old familiar fear. Trapped. Hopeless. She slowed, walking on the non-rot side, heart pounding. She could discern a door at the end, but did people use it? Could it even be opened?

Still she went forward. Sometimes it was all you had left. When she hit the door, she turned the knob and pushed with all her might.

The door gave a titch, then stopped dead. Boarded up on the other side. She rammed it with her shoulder.

No go.

She spun around, overcome with the instinct to freeze in the dark like a rabbit, to be very small.

No. No freezing. Move, move, move.

She pulled her gun from her purse.

Nobody coming.

Maybe it wasn’t Harken out there. Or maybe he hadn’t seen her.

But if it was Harken, and if he
had
seen her, he’d know she was trapped. He’d be sitting out there relishing her fear like a twisted connoisseur, enjoying its rich, robust undertones and high notes of hysteria. Harken had enjoyed mind fucking her almost as much as Rolly had. And if he caught her, he’d bring her back to the States and straight to Rolly’s prison. For the conjugal visit from hell.

The seconds crept on. She couldn’t go back through the restaurant. But she couldn’t stay. If somebody turned on the hallway lights, they’d see her and raise a fuss.

The little door she’d passed. Was it a closet? She could hide in there and call for help. She could defend herself in there.

She crept back down the hall and tried the knob. Open. She slipped in, eased the door shut, and flattened against it. When she turned on her phone light she saw it was a linen closet. Dry storage. She spied the hanging string for an overhead bulb, but she didn’t dare pluck it. Light would show through the crack under the door. Also, she preferred not to see the spider webs. There would be spiders and all manner of other critters in this little space. That was Bangkok, a city with a teeming jungle in the margins.

And now Rolly’s man. She’d been located.

Her intuition had been telling her something was wrong these past weeks. And this was a whole lot of wrong.

Two years. She’d almost been feeling like herself again.

She got up her contacts screen, scrolled to Rajini’s image, and hit the call button.


Haa-lo.”

“Rajini,” Laney whispered, comforted just to hear her voice. Rajini was her best friend and savior.

“Laney! What? Is something wrong?”

Laney stared into the darkness. “I think I saw Harken.”

“Are you sure?”

“No. Well, my gut is surer than my eyes. No, I think it’s him. I don’t know. Crap!”

“Where are you?”

“In the linens closet of the Hungry Steer,” Laney said.

“On Nakhon Chaisi Road? What’s going on?”

“I wanted some mushroom ribeye and mashed potatoes. Just as a treat...” She didn’t say it was her birthday; Rajini would feel awful to have forgotten it. Anyway, it was her old self’s birthday. Emmaline’s birthday. 

Emmaline was dead and buried. Laney wasn’t supposed to think of herself as Emmaline anymore, and most of the time she succeeded. “I saw him and I beelined for the exit that wasn’t. Now I’m hiding like a freak. If it’s him…Rajini…”

“It’s not him. It couldn’t be,” Rajini said. “Breathe.”

“What if it is?”

“I’m coming over there. I’ll recognize that jackass anywhere.”

“Wait—what if he recognizes
you
?” Laney said.

“Am I not the queen of capers?”

“Rajini!” That’s something Rajini liked to call herself. “This is serious. He won’t be stupid this time.”

Rajini snorted. “It’s not him anyway. If he’s in Bangkok, it means you’ve been found. He’d already have you.”

“Maybe he’s waiting for backup.”

“It doesn’t make sense. I’m getting in a tuk-tuk right now.”

Laney gave her layout details, told her about the door, and described Harken’s clothes, not that Rajini needed it. She’d helped her get away from Harken two years ago. She’d remember the man plain as day.

“Just take a look in the front window and tell me if it’s him,” Laney said. “Do not put yourself in danger, okay? I got away once, I’ll get away again.” A lie. Harken would never let her get away a second time.

“If it’s him, my brothers will kick his ass. Bangkok is our town. You don’t mess with the Shinsurins in Bangkok.”

“If it’s him, you walk away.”

“No, I’ll send my brothers after him and pry the boards off that back door myself, in which case you owe me a manicure.”

“With jeweled decals,” Laney said. “What is wrong with me? Letting myself get trapped. Walking around without cash or a valid passport. I let myself get a false sense of safety.”

“What’s false about it? There’s nowhere safer than the hotel.”

“A gal likes options,” Laney said.

Rajini snorted, but Laney was serious. Her fake passport had expired months ago. Rajini’s brothers had promised over and over to get her a new one, but they never did. What if she had to bolt?

They clicked off. Laney grabbed a stack of linen napkins and put them over her gun. The napkins would act as a silencer if Harken busted in.

She’d only known Rajini three weeks in the States, but Rajini had taken up her cause like a warrior when she realized what danger Laney was in. It had been like a suspense movie, the two women outwitting Harken, and then Rajini had talked her into really disappearing—in Thailand. Rajini had finished her degree by then, she was on her way back home anyway, but still, it was a big thing that Rajini had done, getting her away from Harken and out of the country. Laney and Rajini had traveled to Bangkok together and Rajini had cajoled her gangster brothers into giving Laney a singing job at their Bangkok hotel. Together the women had come up with an old-fashioned nightclub singer getup that involved a hat with netting, which concealed Laney’s face and added a note of torch singer mystique. Rajini was like a sister to Laney. More than a sister. Laney owed Rajini everything.

She slid to the floor with her knees to her chest, feeling the top of her sheer stockings. Her birthday present to herself—she’d passed a street stall selling them and couldn’t resist.

Rolly would’ve hated the stockings. He’d always make her dress up like magazine pictures he’d show her. She’d gotten good at being a fashion chameleon, which came in pretty handy on the run. She knew how to blend in.

The sheer stockings had appealed to the girl she’d been before Rolly had come along. They’d appealed to the songstress poet full of funky style.

Her birthday present to herself. And like hell she’d take them off.

Footsteps. Heavy. A man.

She wrapped her fingers around the Ruger .22, feeling the little dots on the grip and fixing the napkins over it. Quiet as a mouse, she slid up to a standing position against the wall behind the door.

Her pulse pounded so loudly in her ears she barely heard the handle turn.

The door swung open. She backed tight to the wall, hand out, using her fingertips to ease it to a gentle stop so it wouldn’t bang into her. The light went on.

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