SECOND SHOT

Charlie Fox book six

Synopsis

'Take it from me, getting yourself shot hurts like hell.'

When the latest assignment of ex-Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox, ends in a bloody shoot-out in a frozen forest in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, she's left fighting for her life, with her client dead.

Simone had just become a lottery millionairess but she never lived long enough to enjoy her newfound riches. Charlie was supposed to be keeping Simone's troublesome ex-boyfriend at bay and accompanying her on a trip to New England to track down the father Simone had never really known.

A relatively low-risk job.

"crackles with suspense, crisp prose, plenty of plot twists and a heroine who adds new meaning to the term femme fatale"

American Library Association, starred review

But Simone's former SAS father has secrets in his past that are about to come back and haunt him, and the arrival of his long-lost daughter may be the catalyst that blows his whole world apart. Was the prospect of getting hold of Simone's money tempting enough to make him engineer her death? And what happens now to Simone's baby daughter, Ella?

With Simone gone, Ella's safety becomes Charlie's main concern. She's determined, despite her injuries, not to let anything happen to the child. But the closer Charlie gets to the truth, the bigger threat she becomes. Only, this time she's in no fit state to protect anyone, least of all herself.

From the author's notebook

The plot for SECOND SHOT went through a lot of different incarnations before it finally settled into this story. It went through a lot of different titles, too. Originally, I had it pencilled in first as Cold Cuts and then Fall Line before my US publisher decided they'd like to follow on from FIRST DROP with another numerically titled book. Once I'd decided on the opening sequence, the title just suggested itself.

In one of those amazing coincidences that life constantly throws at you, after I'd decided to have Charlie seriously injured in this book, I was giving a talk at a local book festival and happened to mention that I was always interested in talking to people for research purposes. A guy sitting in the front row reacted to this and, afterwards, he came up and asked if I'd be interested in talking to him. 'What about?' I asked. 'I was shot in the stomach in Turkey,' he replied.

So, if Charlie's gunshot injuries ring true, that's at least partly thanks to the real-life experiences of Mick Botterill.

Excerpt

The two men drove me down into North Conway and almost all the way through the town until we finally pulled off next to a little seafood restaurant called Jonathon's. They stopped the van and the red-haired man twisted to face me, laying his arm along the back of the seat. He was wearing an ornate ring on the little finger of his right hand. The light was behind his head and I couldn't see his face clearly.

"Scarily good . . . today's best action heroine is back with a bang"

Lee Child

'Now, you been a good girl so far,' he said. 'Are you going to behave, or do we need to go through the whole threat business again?'

'That depends,' I said, keeping my voice steady, 'on what happens next.'

The redhead smiled enough for me to see his teeth in the gloom. 'Someone inside wants to speak to you,' he said. 'We go in, you talk, you come out, we give you a ride back to the hotel.'

'O-K,' I said slowly. 'And the threat business?'

'Oh, we don't need to go into that, but just let me say that sure is a cute kid you're looking after.'

I felt my face freeze over. 'I think I've been pretty patient so far in allowing you two to drag me down here, but that, my friend,' I said softly, 'was a big mistake.'

'Hey, now who needs to quit fooling around with her?' Moustache said. 'She's said she'll do it, so she'll do it. Don't make trouble for yourself.'

As my two escorts walked me towards the restaurant, one on either side, I asked, 'As a matter of interest, how did you engineer that grab raid back there?'

The redhead merely looked smug, but Moustache was prepared to be more talkative. 'I was hanging around in the lobby, keeping an eye out for you, and I heard them at the desk calling up the rental company. Soon as she mentioned your name, I went out and got myself a clipboard and some official-looking papers.' He shrugged. 'Reckoned it was a whole lot easier than trying to deliver you pizza you ain't ordered.'

You reckoned right.

"an exhilarating thriller . . . incredibly exciting opening sequence"

Harriet Klausner

They'd put their guns away but had a tight grip on my upper arms instead, just above the elbow. The redhead did the talking to the waitress who offered to seat us, nodding to an occupied corner table. It was too early for it to be busy. In fact, when I glanced around I saw that the man I'd been brought to meet was the only diner. It came as little surprise to recognise Felix Vaughan.

I did a fast visual sweep of the place as I was walked across towards him. Formica-topped tables, plain wooden chairs, rough plaster, and simple clapboard walls, painted white like a beach house. The look was completed by mooring buoys and other nautical items strung along the walls, including an old harpoon gun.

Vaughan was sitting eating a large portion of what I would have called king prawns, but I'd learned were classified as shrimp over here, from a paper plate. They'd obviously arrived still fully dressed and he had sticky fingers and a stack of empty shells to one side of him. He looked up as we approached and carefully wiped his hands.

'Miss Fox,' he said, nodding to the chair opposite. 'Please, won't you join me?'

His voice was polite, but the men on either side of me forced my obedience, dragging me into a seat and then making sure I stayed there with a heavy hand on my shoulder.

'Mr Vaughan,' I said, pleasantly. 'Would you mind informing your minions that the next one who touches me will be feeding through a tube for the foreseeable future?'

It was gratifying that the hand lifted sharply, without any need for the scowl that Vaughan leveled in their direction.

'Thank you,' Vaughan said, his voice dismissive and chillingly polite. 'You can wait outside.'

He waited until they'd gone before he spoke again, sliding his thumb up the exoskeleton of another shrimp and twisting its head from its body.

'Would you like some?' he said. He gestured to the paper plates. 'Don't be fooled by the modest décor. This place does the best seafood for miles.'

"Charlie Fox is fast becoming the must-read heroine of mystery. Superb"

Ken Bruen

I sighed, looked away a moment as if to catch my breath, or my temper, but in reality just so I didn't have to watch him eat. Then I looked back. 'You never quite got the hang of dating, did you, Felix?'

For a moment he frowned before a sly smile overtook it. 'You're a cool one. I'll give you that,' he said, shaking his head. He wiped his hands again, picking up a bundle of extra paper napkins. I leaned forwards, folding my arms onto the Formica surface and carefully palming a table knife in my right hand as I did so, just in case.

'Don't be foolish, Miss Fox,' Vaughan said without looking at me directly. 'I've been a fighting man since before you were born. I'd kill you before you got that blunt blade anywhere near me.'

I sat back again, leaving the knife on the tabletop and he nodded as he reached for another shrimp.

'That's better. If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead by now, believe me. I hear you had a lucky escape last night.'

How did you hear? Because you were involved, or because Lucas told you?

His patronising tone goaded me into bravado. 'Luck didn't come into it.'

He grunted. 'You say you were a soldier?' he said. I gave the faintest nod. 'Well then, you should know that luck always comes into it, one way or another.'

'Would you like to get to the point?'

'Of course,' he said. 'The point's simple. I've tried to get it across to you as painlessly as possible, but it hasn't sunk in, so now I'm going to tell it to you straight. Go home. Take the girl and the kid and go home.'

I sat and looked at him. As painlessly as possible. Had he had a hand in last night's failed kidnapping attempt, or did he have some other motive?

'Why?' I said.

He shook his head. 'Not your problem,' he said. 'Your problem is that I want you to go. That's the start and finish of your problem. You do the right thing and your problem ends.'

'My problem is my client,' I said. 'If she wants to stay, she stays, but,' I added, raising a hand when he would have cut in, 'fortunately − for all of us − she's already decided she's leaving.'

'When?'

I paused, but reason told me that it wouldn't gain me anything not to tell Vaughan the truth. And it could even save a lot of hassle, so I said, 'We'll be heading down to Boston first thing tomorrow.'

'That's very wise,' he said, nodding, giving me a tight smile. He ripped open a couple of packets of moist towelets and wiped his hands more thoroughly, fastidious about his nails. The scent of lemon cut across the fishy smell of the table, sharp and acidic. 'So, your task is nearly over.'

I shook my head. 'I'll stay with Simone as long as she needs me,' I said. 'As long as there's a threat.'

'And then?'

I shrugged. 'Move on to the next job.'

He reached for his glass, took a drink and stared at me. 'I could use someone with your particular skills,' he said. 'I think I could work something out that would make it very worth your while for you to consider relocating.'

'I'm flattered,' I said blandly. 'But it would have to be a very cold day in hell.'

'Well, that's the beauty of New England − the weather's always just about to change,' he said. 'You don't like it, you wait five minutes.'

'The answer's no.'

It was his turn to shrug. 'A shame,' he said.

I pushed back my chair and stood. He let me take one step away from him before he spoke again.

'So tell me − has she found out the truth about him?'

'The truth?' I turned back, a flash image of that old ID photo of Lucas in front of me. 'You mean he's not her father?'

Vaughan laughed, little more than a chuckle under his breath. 'That would be much too easy, wouldn't it?'

For a moment I just stared, so tempted to ask but afraid he was just teasing to get me to beg. 'And how would you know anything about that?'

'I make a point of finding out all about the people I do business with,' he said. He sat back and smiled again, more smugly this time. 'So, she doesn't know.'

'The jury's still out,' I said shortly, losing patience. 'We leave tomorrow. By the time we come back, she'll know one way or the other.'