MASTERS OF THE SHADOWLANDS, BOOK 14
Z’s day begins with sadness
A phone call from a dying friend leaves psychologist Zachary Grayson determined to fulfill the old survivalist’s request--a send-off that will comfort his grieving sons.
And then turns deadly
The death threat is only the beginning…because the letter isn’t a hoax. Z walks out of his office into a barrage of bullets. He can take being shot at, but when the second shot splinters the empty child-seat in his car, he’s shaken to the core. The horror of what would have happened if his little girl had been there spurs him to action.
Master Z is a Dom, a husband, a father—every instinct drives him to protect those under his care. When the police can’t catch his stalker, he must take matters into his own hands.
He must keep danger far from those he loves.
Secrecy and distance is the key. The funeral in Alaska is the perfect location, especially since Z won’t be alone. The survivalist’s sons have grown into men with lethal skills. With their help, he can trap the shooter and keep his family safe.
As long as his impetuous and all-too-observant wife, Jessica, doesn’t discover he’s using himself as bait.
PRAISE FOR THIS SERIES
"Even with twelve books in the Masters of the Shadowlands series, Cherise Sinclair manages to make each book even more passionate than the last one. If you haven’t read this series, you’re missing out. Sinclair writes the best Doms. Period." ~ Under the Covers Book Reviews
"One thing that I really love is how Cherise took a series and turned into a family of characters that every time I read the next novel it feels like coming home to friends." ~ Boundless Book Reviews
“You know what an Irish wake is, Grayson?”
Sitting in his office, Zachary Grayson pulled in a deep, pained breath, not able to process the question. Because his old friend had cancer. Cancer.
And Mako was dying.
Grief thickened Zachary’s voice. “Yes, Mako, I know what a wake is.”
“Well, boy, my sons will handle the funeral, but would you do me a solid and set up a happy send-off for after? I don’t want all the sitting with the body shit. Find a place with decent booze where whoever shows up can raise a glass and tell a few stories. Share the stupid shit I did when I was younger. So the boys can remember me alive and not in a box in the ground.”
“I can do that.” Zachary rubbed the sting from his eyes. Dammit. Hold it back. “I’ll even tell one or two myself, First Sergeant. Maybe about how a bunch of streetwise foster children ended up in the wilds of Alaska.”
As the raspy laugh rang through the phone, Zachary knew that cancer might steal the sergeant’s life, but death didn’t frighten Mako. It never had.
“Good enough. My lawyer has your name and number. He’ll contact you when the time comes.” Mako’s harsh voice went a degree softer. “It’s been an honor to know you, Zachary. Thanks for looking out for the boys.”
The silence said Mako had disconnected.
Dammit, Mako. Would Zachary ever hear his voice again?
Setting the phone down, he rested his eyes on a tranquil scene of white-capped Alaska mountains and forest, a painting he’d purchased when visiting his friend.
He had a feeling he’d be hearing from Mako’s lawyer soon. Aching inside, he murmured the old Irish blessing. “Until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.”
Pushing away from the desk, he glanced at the time. Almost five. He kept Mondays light, so there were no more counseling appointments today, and he had a need to hold his wife and daughter.
Out in the waiting room he shared with two other psychologists, Mrs. Ward smiled at him. Tactful, yet firm, she reminded him of his favorite grandmother. “Done for the day, Dr. Grayson?”
“Yes. I’ll finish my paperwork at home so Sophia can keep me company.” Not that he got much accomplished when she did.
Having met his eighteen-month-old despot, Mrs. Ward laughed.
“Is there anything urgent in the mail I should deal with tonight?”
“Here you go. I already removed the junk mail.” Mrs. Ward handed him a stack.
Zachary glanced through the letters and tossed most into his in-basket for tomorrow. Since former patients often sent news of their progress, he opened the letter with a hand-printed address.
“Dr. Grayson? Zachary? Is something wrong?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes.” Silently, he read the letter again.
You arrogant asshole, you’ll pay for what you did.
One bullet should do it.
“I seem to have received my first death threat.”
“That’s…” Mrs. Ward realized he wasn’t joking, and her face went pale. “The police. You have to notify the police.”
“I’ll stop by there now.” The local station wasn’t far, and clients here might react badly to an influx of police. It would be best to visit them.
Careful not to add new fingerprints, he tucked everything into a manila envelope.
A minute later, he stepped out of the air-conditioned building into the hot humid air of early October in Tampa. A thunderstorm was just breaking over the city. As thunder echoed off the buildings, fat raindrops splattered on the cars in the parking lot.
Terrified at the cracks of thunder, a little five-year-old boy, a patient of Zachary’s associate, huddled next to the building, ignoring the rain.
“Calm down. It’s just thunder, Cody.” His mother’s attempts to get him moving sent him further into a ball.
“He’s not having a good day, is he?” Zachary stopped next to her.
“Dr. Grayson. Hello.”
“He’ll do better inside and out of the noise. May I pick him up?”
She let out an exasperated breath. “Please.”
Putting his own worries to one side, he touched the boy on the shoulder, projecting calm. “I’m going to pick you up, and we’ll go inside where it’s quieter.”
When the boy didn’t react, Zachary simply scooped him up, waited for the mother to open the door, and walked back inside. The lobby, decorated in calming blues and greens, had comfortable chairs lining the tall windows.
“Take a seat, please,” he told the mother, and when she complied, he set Cody in her lap.
“There. This isn’t as noisy, is it?” Dropping down on one knee to be level with the child, he smiled at the mother. “At his age, it’s normal to be frightened of our loud Tampa storms. There are techniques that will help. Ask your counselor, or even look online.”
“I shouldn’t have been so impatient.” She hugged her son. “We just moved here from Seattle, and we’re used to nice quiet drizzles. These thunderstorms scare me, too.”
“There will come a time you’ll both enjoy the noise and light shows.” Zachary patted her hand before searching through his pants pockets. He usually had something tucked away, depending on which little patients he’d seen during the day.
Ah, yes. He and one little girl had been blowing bubbles this morning. He pulled out the bottle. “Cody.”
The boy’s head rose just enough to reveal big brown eyes. Excellent. The fear had receded enough to allow the child’s natural curiosity to awaken.
“I have a job for you.” Pulling out the plastic ring, he blew a big bubble.
When it landed on Cody’s knee and burst, the boy’s eyes widened. And his lips curved up.
Zachary held up the ring again. “Every time a bubble comes close, I need you to take a big breath and blow it away.”
As Cody wiggled to sit up, Zachary dropped his voice in a pseudo-warning. “If it lands on you, you lose a point. Are you up to the job?”
“I can do it!”
Zachary blew a bubble toward him, and the boy puffed hard to chase the bubble away.
“Wonderful work. Do it again.” Another bubble. Another success.
And the thunderstorm was forgotten.
Looking up, Zachary met the mother’s gaze. “Moving somewhere quieter and providing a diversion will usually work. Bubbles have the added benefit of requiring deep breathing, which is calming in itself.”
Her face thoughtful, she nodded slowly. “He has a right to be scared, and I over-reacted. I’ll do better next time.”
“That’s the spirit.” Zachary blew another bubble and laughed when Cody puffed it up and into the air. “Good job.”
After handing the bottle to the mother, he said, “The storm should move on within a few minutes. Have fun.”
“Thank you.” Her eyes glimmered briefly with tears as she hugged her son. “You turned a fight into fun. Thank you so much.”
“You’re quite welcome.”
At the door, Zachary stopped. A death threat. Someone wanted to kill him. Although most threats tended to be someone letting off steam, this sender had sounded serious.
A signature would certainly have been useful. He couldn’t think of anyone who held that much anger toward him.
As Zachary stepped outside, he glanced around. No one was pointing a rifle at him. Other people who worked in the building were leaving, hurrying to escape the downpour. Two cars rolled past. Lightning flashed, and a second later, thunder rumbled across the heavens.
Pulling up his collar against the rain, he strode quickly down the slope to his car, conveniently close. The parking space was one of the perks of owning the building.
As he crossed in front of his car, the hair on the back of his neck rose. He spun in a quick circle.
There. The man stood, half-hidden, in the tall firebush hedge at the building’s side. The posture was unmistakable. He held a pistol pointing at Zachary.
Zachary lunged to the left.
The handgun barked, almost drowned out by a sizzling crack of lightning.
A streak of pain ripped across Zachary’s upper arm as he dove between the two parked cars.
Another shot sounded, this one louder.
Heart hammering, he pulled out his phone and looked around the front of the car.
The shadow by the building had disappeared.
Shaken, Zachary closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. That had been far too close. He took two more breaths before doing a quick self-assessment. He had a rip in his shirtsleeve and a bleeding gouge high on his deltoid that stung like hell.
A chill ran cold fingers up his spine. If he hadn’t moved, the bullet would have gone through his chest.
Rising, he spotted a hole in his front windshield where the second bullet had passed. Good, he’d have some evidence for the police.
More than just a bloody arm. Frowning at the blood, he opened the back door and picked up the paper towels beside Sophia’s car seat.
And he froze in horror.
After passing through the windshield, the bullet had gone through the front seat and splintered the top edge of the car seat. If his daughter had been with him…
Like Mako, he was no stranger to death. But this…no man was prepared for this.
Fear for his family rose up within him like a tsunami.