Kristen Corbett’s intriguing family history includes uncles with clandestine occupations, and a mother, whose bittersweet past consists of a brutal assault, attempted murder, and ongoing acts of revenge. Except for her mother, the family believes repercussions from her atypical youth are a done deal, until Kristen hooks up with Jered Reardon and comes under attack. The entire family comes together, scrambling to find the perpetrator before taking Kristen’s life becomes the ultimate retaliation.
Everyone suspects Marissa’s last-known enemy has come for payback, but can’t rule out felons with links to the uncles, or anyone from Jered’s ambiguous family history. Even members of both families—Reardons and Corbetts—come under suspicion. It’s not until the two families get together that it becomes obvious, a member of the Reardon family has a connection to Marissa’s past. That discovery leads to the final reckoning—one left standing.
Twenty-two years later
Her singing stuttered to a stop, mid-word.
Fumbling with the radio dial, the music faded, replaced by the rhythmic, intermittent on-and-off ticking of the left-turn indicator. Bottom lip clamped between her teeth, she eased her Mustang into the center turn lane. While she waited for the oncoming traffic to pass, her wide-eyed gaze remained riveted on the scene before her.
That’s their meeting place. She jockeyed her way through Interstate 215 rush hour traffic for this-that…hell. Clearly, words to describe what she saw weren’t in her vocabulary, the setting so unexpected. Jered said they were meeting at a bar, but this place wasn’t like any bar she’d ever patronized. Uh-huh, as defined in the bouzhe dictionary of fine architectural design—trendy, upscale, snobbish―damn, conscience sounded suspiciously like her mother. Without a doubt, time to get out more, out of her comfort zone, expand her horizons. And how could she resist such explorations, if the sight before her was an example?
Set back from the street, the one-story structure housed two separate establishments. Each business had small security-screened windows nestled high up on the wall just below the eaves. Windows containing identical red illuminated lettering spelling out beer on tap. What passed for a parking lot was dirt sparsely strewn with gravel. Besides, how could the aesthetics of adjoining properties not impress her? Lots peppered with dilapidated buildings, once habitable homes, now empty shells. Half the windows boarded up, the other half, cavernous holes gaping at the rapidly vanishing urban environment.
Oh yeah, sign her up for the seedy neighborhood tour.
Despite dismay over her bleak observations, lips twitching, she had to give somebody props for a warped sense of humor. As though the visual image of the environment equated to homey and inviting, her destination sported a garish flickering sign that read Cozy Lounge. Conversely, the absurdity of the overall setting was the picturesque backdrop of snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains still visible in the encroaching darkness.
Ooh-kay, the place wasn’t on par with her usual upscale haunts, but suitably located across the road from Norton Air Force Base. Jered said he had business there. Gee, imagine…work-related interests on a military base. First the uncles, now the boyfriend, had she lost her mind or—wait a minute.
She didn’t keep up with military news, but her father, a Weapons Systems Analyst, kept up with armed forces scuttlebutt. His company was government contracted, affiliated with the Naval Weapons Base, officially known as Naval Surface Warfare Center in Norco. Hadn’t her dad mentioned rumors about the Norton Base closing? With that in mind, wasn’t there an article in the Riverside Press Enterprise newspaper about converting the Norton property into the San Bernardino International Airport and business complex. When was that? Heck, before tonight, she never had reason to come to this part of San Bernardino. Any scoop about the base wouldn’t have held her interest. But that wasn’t the issue.
If Norton were no longer a military, government installation, why would Jered have business there?
Girl, stop. Don’t even―
Fingers curling around the steering wheel in a white-knuckled grip, her head jerked up, gaze moving to the rearview mirror. Geez, spooked by a honking horn…hell, why not…look around. Derelict outpost, middle of nowhere, sinister car following…isn’t that how horror movies start?
She snorted. She really needed to get back to her own planet.
Brow furrowed, Kristen watched the car behind her—only parking lights on—follow her as she made the turn onto the lot. She couldn’t imagine why the driver was impatient to get to the bar. No headlights seemed a sure sign he or she’d had more than enough to drink. Shrugging, she turned her attention to the zigzag pattern of parked vehicles. The configuration suggested drivers parked wherever they stopped, without regard to traffic flow. Wanting to fit in, she eased into the first vacant space of the acceptable parking pattern and put her gear in park.
The car following hers cruised by. Heavily tinted windows obstructed a clear view of the occupants, but she could distinguish the silhouettes of two figures in the front, and one shadowy outline in the back. The car parked a few cars away from hers.
Unfamiliar with the type of people-element in the area, and not wanting some macho bozos to hassle her, she waited for the occupants of the other car to emerge. Waiting to see which bar they were going to enter, she intended to let them go in before she exited her car. A moment later, no one had exited the other vehicle and she turned off her ignition, but stayed seated scrutinizing the area.
In the fading sunlight, the halogen glow of the parking lot lights cast an ominous shadow over the area, creating the spectral atmosphere of a ghost town. A chill of apprehension swept her body, but true to character, she ignored her unease, slung her purse over her shoulder, and exited the car. Standing stock-still, she eyed the distance between her car and the bar entrance. All right, it wasn’t far, but she had to maneuver between that hodge-podge of vehicles. A tingling sense of awareness ended her hesitation.
She glanced toward that other car and watched a human form materialize between shadowy vehicle outlines. Getting her ass in gear, she strode toward the front door, scanning the area as she went, but didn’t see Jered’s metallic gray BMW. Maybe he parked out back―geez. Why didn’t she think to call his cell before she left home, or before she left her car? Was she so eager to see him? Well hell, after driving all that way, she’d wait fifteen minutes, and then she was out of there.