ExcerptKISS ME DEADLY
Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Tor Romantic Suspense
Pub. Date: June 26, 2007
Mandy Newman glanced in her rear-view mirror at the pick-up truck that had swung around the corner to hug her rear bumper. What was up with him? This same pickup truck had been following her since she'd left her parking garage. Now he was close. Too close.
There was no telling if the tailgater was a drunk or simply a lousy driver, but a rear-end collision wasn't on her to-do list today. Neither was coping with the rain that made the oil-slick street treacherous. But considering that the Sunshine State's daily afternoon showers were a fact of life during the summer rainy season, the other driver ought to know better than to follow so close.
Another glance revealed the pickup was still sticking to her rear bumper like a sand spur, the driver revving his motor as if bent on making her sweat. Why wasn't he hitting his brake, backing off, giving her maneuvering room? Perspiration trickled down her neck and Mandy flicked up the AC. Fog cleared from her windows. But he was still there.
Damn him for crowding her. For worrying her.
Come on. Keep it together. Surely he was harmless? Not a sicko spoiling for a fender bender.
Keeping a wary eye on her mirror, Mandy tried to shake off the tension in her neck and shoulders. All she had to do was ignore the jerk. Not let her nerves and fatigue from another long day of court set her on edge. Reminding herself that giving in to paranoia was all too easy, especially after these past months of working a mind-numbing number of back-to-back divorce cases, she took several deep breaths. After all, just because her clients often feared their abusive, greedy and hostile spouses, she didn't need to let her imagination run amok.
The truck's driver, a white man with dirty blond hair sticking out from a baseball cap pulled low on his forehead, probably had nothing to do with her or her work. He could simply have poor eyesight . . . or have forgotten his glasses. Yeah right. More likely he was a whacked out junkie or a pervert who got off on scaring women.
Mandy stopped at a red light on South Franklin Street and he just barely tapped her rear fender. Son of a bitch. Even as she told herself the bump had to be an accident, Mandy checked her door locks, uncaring if she was overreacting.
Sweat beaded on her scalp, and the air-conditioning had nothing to do with the shiver of apprehension that had her heart beating triple time. She needed to get away from him, but changing lanes in the Tampa rush-hour traffic that now resembled a parking lot wouldn't be easy. Not with rumbling delivery trucks and commuters hemming her in. Besides, she only had to drive another five blocks to safety, to her island community, where security guards would stop the moron from following her through the gate. Deciding her best option was to keep going, Mandy inched forward, a wary eye on the rear-view mirror. Another four blocks and she'd be safe. Five minutes and she'd be home free.
After she turned at Channelside Drive onto the Harbour Island Bridge, the traffic gushed, as if from an unclogged drain and she relaxed, tension streaming behind her. The rain seemed to be letting up, the sky lightening and the two-laned bridge pavement shimmied with broken rainbows in the early evening heat. Below Mandy, the Hillsborough River flowed out to Tampa Bay between Harbour and Davis Islands where a cornucopia of condos, custom homes and high-end apartments knotted together along the waterfront and sprawled over every spare inch of dirt. As she traversed the bridge, she picked up speed. So did the silver pickup.
One moment she was driving in total control, the next, her car bucked. Good God, the pickup had bumped her. Again.
Bastard. Why was he gunning for her? Who the hell was he? A drunk? Someone trying to rob her? An angry ex-husband of a client? She should have called the cops when she'd noticed him following her. She should have listened to her gut. She should have
Her car spun sideways. Out of control. Toward the guardrail.
Mandy slammed on the brakes. Bad move. Her tires squealed and skidded on the slick pavement. Clenching the wheel, she fought the spin. But her car careened sideways, smashed into the guardrail. Concrete rumbled. Horns blared.
Her airbag exploded in her face.
She slapped it down, choking on the powder in the air, and opened her eyes. And gasped.
Pitched downward, her car dangled about twenty feet over the water below. Through her front windshield she had a bird's eye view of rippling river, of rain drops plunking into the water and muttering a warning. She could be next.
Oh . . . my . . . God. She screamed. Started to claw at her seatbelt to escape the car before she plummeted.
Somewhere above and behind her, an engine roared. Craning her neck, she glanced over her shoulder, praying that help was coming.
The silver pickup rammed her car a second time. Fear slicked across her skin. He didn't want to rob her. He didn't want to kidnap her. He wanted to kill her.
So she had to stop him. But how? It wasn't like she had a weapon in her front seat and could pull out a gun and shoot him. Or had a rope handy. So what could she do?
Behind her, the guardrail cracked and metal pieces rained into the river. Her car slid, teetered. The truck crashed into her again, shoving her vehicle all the way over the lip.
No. Please. . . No.
She had no time to release her seat belt. No time to escape. No time to pray.
Her car plunged toward the water, flipping, somersaulting through the air. Mandy fought blackness. Nausea. Dizziness. The terror of not knowing up from down.
Bracing her hands on the wheel, holding her breath, closing her eyes, she froze. But even as Mandy's ears roared and the water rushed up to smack her, she gulped air. She was so not ready to die. She had to survive. For Gabrielle. It was bad enough that her precious baby girl didn't have a father. She couldn't lose her mother.
Whatever it took to make it back home to her daughter, she would do. If that meant turning herself into Lara Croft, so be it. If it meant coming up with a plan, she'd be brilliant. If it meant gritting her teeth to avoid biting her tongue, she wouldn't so much as utter one yelp.
But inside, she howled. She was not going to die. She was not going to die. She was not
Her car punched through the water, slamming the air from her lungs and bruising her, wrenching her. But even in pain, surely she still could swim.
If only the car would float long enough for her to leap into the water. But it didn't float. She sank with a giant sucking noise, as if the river were taking her to hell.
Cold water cascaded over her, hissing like a deadly sea creature. Blinded in the dark, panic rose up to choke her and she pounded her palms on the window.
Wait a minute. What was she doing? Dizzy, confused, she finally figured out her car was upside down and sinking toward the river bottom. And she didn't have the strength to break the glass with her bare hands.
Still, her options were limited. Get out or drown.
Fighting her seat belt, she fumbled and finally released the buckle, placed her hands above her head to break her fall. She toppled sideways and ended up sitting on the ceiling in a deepening pool of water.
Unable to see, dazed, Mandy groped for the door. She touched smooth leather. Idiot. The handle was upside down from this angle.
Her fingers finally closed on the handle and with desperate strength, she yanked, then shoved the door with her shoulder. But it wouldn't budge. Too much water pressure from outside.
Damn it to hell. She had to get out.
Trapped like a crab in a trap, she clawed the door, hammered the window with her fists. But she was going nowhere.
Water poured in. Her air bubbled out. The car kept plunging. Inexorably, with a moan of tortured metal, it settled on the bottom, the roof denting beneath her. Water hissed past her feet, her waist, her neck.
She would not shut down. Or break. She would not quit. Gabby needed her. Besides, she hadn't scheduled dying into her day planner. And no way in hell was she letting that SOB get away with murder.
Could she escape after the pressure equalized? After the car's interior totally filled with water? At the idea, terror crawled into her veins and cramped her muscles.
But if her only chance at life was to wait for the water to rise over her head, she would take it. Immediately she felt better for devising a strategy.
Yeah right. As if the best planning in the world would stop her from becoming fish food.
Water rose past her chin, and she lunged upward and banged her head. Easy. Ignoring the pain, she tilted her head back, clamped her mouth shut and breathed through her nostrils. She didn't care if every cell in her body urged her to flee, if she wanted to open the door, she had to remain still, and wait for the water close over her head.
For Gabby, thankfully safe in her grandmother's care, Mandy would keep it together. For Gabby, she allowed the water to swallow her alive. For Gabby, she waited for the water to rise, with her nose pressed against the floorboards, gasping in the very last pocket of air.
Water closed over her mouth, nose and eyes, filled the entire car, draping her in wet blackness.
Now. Make your move now.
Mandy dived down to the handle. Shoved. The door wouldn't move.
Oxygen dwindling, mind whirring like a propeller, Mandy refused to cry. Every good lawyer had a plan B. And she was a damn good attorney.
Come on. What did she need?
Grabbing the wheel with one hand, the handle with the other, she planted her feet against the door. Licks of pain shooting through her, straining every muscle, she thrust with her back and calves and thighs.
The door gave with a pop.
About damn time.
Rushing out, she banged her shoulder on the doorjamb. Lungs already on fire, head pounding as if she'd drunk too many Margaritas, she kicked hard for the surface.
I'm coming, Gabby. Mommy's coming.
Mandy's chest ached, but she fought against the urge to open her mouth for air.
Overhead, rays of light beckoned with tempting promise. So close. But, so far . . . We're under attack."