Prime Target (Target #1)

By: Marquita Valentine

I won’t be okay, but it has nothing to do with my health or safety. It has everything to do with her.

“The nurses will keep me sorted.”

Everly stares at me for a moment. “I could go to your place and bring back whatever you need.”

The only thing I need is standing by my hospital bed. “That’s not necessary. But I really appreciate the offer,” I add before she mistakes my refusal as a rejection.

“One last question before I go,” she says, her smile turning shy.

“Ask away,” I softly command.

“Do you think you can call me Everly now? I mean, I did rescue you from the jaws of death.” She bites her lip, like she’s trying not to giggle.

For the first time in years, I throw my head back and laugh, uncaring of how much it hurts to do so. “God, yes. I’ll call you whatever you want, love.”

A uniformed officer walks into the room, and my laughter fades. This is the moment I’ve been dreading. “Mr. Smith, I’m Officer Jones, and I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

Everly’s gaze bounces to the officer. “Do you need me for anything?”

Officer Jones gives her an easy smile, one that speaks of familiarity. “You’ve been more than helpful, Ms. Andrews.”

“Great.” She walks to me, her eyes soft as her fingers brush my hair back. I can’t help but wonder what she told the police. Has she betrayed me without even knowing it? “I’ll see you later,” she says, and then leaves.

Officer Jones steps closer to my bed, pulling out a pad of paper and a pen. “Can you tell me what happened on the twenty-sixth?”

Prepared for this moment, I say, “A man walked in, clearly high, wanting money. He picked the wrong shop. I don’t deal with cash. Credit card purchases only.”

“That would explain the lack of a till,” the officer says as he takes notes.

I clear my throat. “When he realized I wasn’t lying, he got all pissed and fired a couple of shots, and then,” I close my eyes, as if the memory is painful to relive, “I passed out. I’m not quite sure how long I laid there before Ms. Andrews came inside, looking for her coat.”

“Detectives have already been down to your bookstore. We couldn’t find a weapon or any other bullet holes or casings.”

Inwardly relieved, I open my eyes. My secrets are safe. “Son of a bitch.”

“Is there anything else you can tell me about the perp? Maybe describe him?”

“Brownish hair, late twenties to early thirties. Male. Um, eyes, uh…bloodshot. His skin was a sickly gray color.”

Officer Jones snorts. “You just described every junkie down on Hargett.”

Perfect. I make another noise of disgust. “I’m not that observant. Honestly, all I can remember is the barrel of his gun.”

The officer nods. “Thank you for your time. If we have more questions, we’ll be in touch.”

“Thank you.”

As soon as Officer Jones walks out of the room, I exhale. My cover hasn’t been blown, and I’m still alive.

But what will I do about Everly? I owe her my life now.

I owe her everything.

Chapter Three

Madrid, four months later

I scan the perimeter of the room, ignoring the glittering ball gowns and black tuxes of the guests. They are not my target. Tonight, the hostess is my prey. Fitting to label her as such, I think, since she preys on children and sells them into human trafficking rings.

Her specialty is boys, and since boys demand a higher price than girls, she lives a luxurious life while they suffer. While her victims are degraded and made to serve adults who have no business breathing. If I could take out every last one of those monsters in one fell swoop, I would, but I will settle for taking out the supplier.

I recognize her face from the picture my contact gave me, hidden inside a second-edition copy of Dickens’ Oliver Twist. As a server passes by, tray balanced on the tips of his fingers, I set my half-empty glass of champagne on it and then make my move.

“Excuse me,” I say, giving the redhead my most charming smile. “I’m in need of assistance, and you look to be the woman for the…job.”

Vibrant blue eyes assess me, clearly excited by my attention, and I briefly wonder if perhaps my contact is mistaken about her. Or perhaps she’s been forced into this by another—one who holds all the power in her miserable life—because my target has a reputation for selling her own body as well.

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