Mara Reed has been stirring up trouble since she was eighteen—running scams, living on the edge, always on the run. Now, when two thugs are after her with murder on their minds, she’s forced into hiding in her small Texas hometown. But as she’s cornered in an alley, only seconds from death, an unexpected rescuer comes to her aid…
A forensic anthropologist, Dr. Ethan Stuart is investigating a gruesome discovery—nearly one hundred dead bodies dating back fifty years—a mystery linked to the church once headed by Mara’s father. Ethan needs Mara’s help; she needs his protection. Their search for a shocking, devastating truth could lead them to forgiveness and salvation... if they survive.
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About the Author
Stacey is an avid fan of television and movies, with a penchant for sci-fi, car chases and heists. A bibliophile, her recent favorites range from Colson Whitehead, Robert Caro and Nora Roberts to N.K. Jemison, Rebecca Roanhorse and Haruki Marukami.
As Selena Montgomery, she is an award-winning author of eight romantic suspense novels.
Read an Excerpt
By Selena Montgomery
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright ©2006 Selena Montgomery
All right reserved.
Ragged breath scuttled through heaving lungs as Mara dodged the rusted bumper that jutted out from the nearly deserted parking lot stall. The edge nicked her skin, ripping through thin black cotton pants. Pain zinged along nerve endings made raw by terror, but she ignored the ache and the fear. There would be time to check her wounds later, when monsters weren't nipping at her heels.
To distract herself, she concentrated on other sounds, other sensations. She could hear the blood pounding through her veins, could hear the wind whipping past her hollowed cheeks. Both told her that she was alive, though not for long if she didn't find shelter soon.
Muscles burned as she sprinted along the broken, empty sidewalk, her pale brown eyes checking for and discarding possible routes of escape. Above her, the dawn sun shone down with unnerving ferocity, as though daring her to evade its punishing rays. The Sunday sky was cloudless and blue, a lovely and lethal combination. Even at daybreak the temperature had already reached above ninety, with nowhere to go but up. Old and young alike died in these conditions, even faster if they had spent the past twenty minutes running flat out as she had.
In wet testimony, sweat ran rivulets down her back, soakingthe skintight black tank top she'd been wearing for three days. She had no choice. She'd been forced to ditch her duffel bag and nearly all her worldly belongings back in Baton Rouge, when her alarm system -- a hostile trailer park owner who didn't like squatters -- threw her out in the middle of the night. Luckily, she'd decided to sleep in her favorite shirt and the loose-fitting pants that breathed in the dank heat of what passed for a southern summer. She'd snagged her backpack with its frayed wallet containing thirty-six bucks and the lumpy, crude quilt called "Fool's Paradise," which Grandma Reed gave her when she was five and too young to sin.
That was a long time ago.
The streets flew past in rapid succession, each stretching longer than the last. It was a trick of the mind, Mara knew, because the town had been laid out by stodgy city planners with every avenue and boulevard a uniform length. The very sameness of the place had always galled her, but she welcomed the homogeny today. She would only have to rely on stubborn memory for shortcuts and hideaways.
If she survived this, Mara thought wistfully, and things worked out as she planned, in a few weeks she'd check into the finest hotel in Dubai and soak for days in a tub of cool water that smelled of rose hips and lavender. She'd buy a stack of paperbacks and wouldn't emerge until every page had been read. But the pleasant image ended abruptly when she heard the squeal of tires signaling that her pursuers were catching up. And then flakes of dried mud bricks spattered as a bullet lodged in a wall inches from her ear.
She ran faster.
Old adobe buildings, constructed at the turn of the century, flew past in a blur of burnt umber. Names once as familiar to her as her own faded on wooden placards or blinked out neon signs. When the corpulent pink pig of Lorraine's Bar-B-Q winked its false lashes at her, Mara knew she was close to her destination.
The grand problem lay in getting there. She sprinted around the corner of the restaurant, riffling through her mental map. It had been more than a decade since her last visit, but certain places were destined to remain the same. Like Kiev, Texas. Some called the changeless, eternal nature of aging western towns like Kiev charming. She called it hell. But even hell would be better than what chased her.
The Franklin Pharmacy sat squat on the lot it had occupied since the first Mrs. Franklin opened it in the late 1800s. A hurried glance showed that the latest owners had recently spruced up the whitewash. The layout of downtown flashed in her mind's eye. Franklin's then the Shop-N-Save and then salvation. One hundred yards, she thought. A hundred yards between her and salvation. If karma didn't catch up with her first.
As quickly as the bleak thought surfaced, Mara forced it back down with a silent oath. Kiev was a way station on the road to a fortune. Pop in and out was the plan. Find the map Bailey mentioned in his diary, check on her grandmother, and keep moving.
The thought of visiting the woman she'd abandoned brought a lump to her throat and a hitch to her stride. But now was not the time to consider whether wounds stayed fresh past a reasonable expiration date. And twelve years was a long damned time. Heaven only knew what mess she'd left behind and whether her grandmother cared enough to forgive. She'd spent Rabbe's $50,000 on atonement, but that may not have evened the score.
Of course, in her world there never was such a time to contemplate the consequences of a decision made. Or unmade. Think. Act. Deal. That was her mantra. No recriminations allowed. As a corollary, Mara had a strict rule against looking too far into the future. You might see something you don't like and never take a chance. Or see something even better and stay put just to have it. She ignored the punch of sorrow at the traitorous thought, as she always did.
An engine revved behind her, and she could hear the hiss of a power window sliding down its pane of glass. With instinct born of experience, she dodged between two buildings as the pop of a silencer registered its fury. Glass shattered and sprayed the ground, shards tinkling in the quiet morning. A second shot was fired, and she could feel the bullet pierce skin, singe flesh.
Excerpted from Hidden Sins by Selena Montgomery Copyright ©2006 by Selena Montgomery. Excerpted by permission.
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