Sunday, March 9, 2014

Day 2 - Astraea Press Giveaway


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Temperature Rising by Alysia S Knight


Temperature Rising by Alysia Knight
Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Length: 191 Pages
ISBN: 9781621352389

Blurb: Fevered visions spiral architect Laken Adams into violent murder scenes that have her and the police questioning her sanity and innocence.  Can Detective Mac MacDaniels have enough faith to save her and their love?


Chapter One

“Lady… Lady! Isn’t this your stop?”
The bus driver gained Laken’s attention enough for her to realize he was right. She stumbled off the bus. The rain felt blessedly cool against her skin. It had been the most awful day of her life. With shaky fingers, she touched her forehead. It felt hotter. A groan made it past her lips, and she staggered. She wondered if anyone would notice if she sank to the sidewalk.
Her body trembled as chills raked her despite the fever. Her feet were the only place on her body that didn’t seem to be burning up. They were freezing in what, that morning, had been her best leather pumps. The shoes were now water-soaked and ruined.
Forcing herself to put one foot in front of the other, Laken concentrated on the pharmacy sign halfway down the block. It became her beacon leading her through the dark, rainy night. Another hundred feet and she could get the flu medicine, then two blocks to her apartment and bed. She could sleep late in the morning. Finally, after all the nights and weekends, the building plans were done, and the presentation wasn’t until one o’clock. All she had to do now was make it home.
The cold glossy concrete beckoned her. Maybe she could just lie down and rest for one minute. She wavered on her feet. Her knees started to give out.
No, she thought forcing herself to stiffen. Focusing on the pharmacy sign, fifty more feet, Laken concentrated on the doorway, counting each step she took. She made it to twenty then started again, unable to make her mind go higher.
With her attention locked on the doorway, she didn’t even notice the woman until she cut her off. The woman’s stride was quick and purposeful, full of energy, like Laken’s normally was. They were close to the same age. Even their shoulder-length brown hair was similar, except the other woman’s hair was still dry and springy due to the umbrella she carried. Laken had forgotten hers that morning. One other major difference existed between them. The other woman looked alive and radiant. Laken knew she looked about at death’s doorstep.
The woman disappeared into the drugstore. Laken forced herself to follow. Again so intent on her destination she didn’t see the man until she collided with him in the doorway. The impact knocked what strength Laken had from her. She would’ve fallen if it weren’t for the large hands that bit into her arms.
Laken caught the scent of sandalwood and musk over the stuffiness in her head. “Sorry.” The words came out scratchy and hoarse from her throat. She raised her gaze up over the tall form covered in a black trench coat. The collar was turned up and a hat pulled low, hiding his face from her except the eyes.
The words of thanks died on her lips, cut off by pale, penetrating orbs which seared deep into her soul. The feverishness of his eyes didn’t seem to be from a physical illness like hers. Laken found herself not wanting to speculate about them.
“Thank you,” she managed to choke out, dropping her gaze.
Before she could pull back, his hand came up to touch her face. He traced a finger along her sweaty brow then brought it to his lips.
“I know you now.” The voice rumbled low and gravelly.
It tore at her like broken glass. He disappeared into the drugstore. A full minute passed before a shudder ran through her, breaking the spell. She managed to push her way into the store.
Thankfully, the man was not in sight. Laken looked down each aisle she came to, fearing he’d be there. Her anxiety ebbed when the aisle she needed was empty. The pharmacy window was closed, so she tried focusing on the different medicines. Her muddled mind took forever to make a decision.
Her relief rose when she didn’t see the man at the checkout counter, though the woman who entered before her stood there talking to the sales clerks.
“I’m celebrating,” the woman boasted. “Those guys never knew what hit them. I pulled the promotion out from under them so smooth I’m sure they’re still scratching their balding, two-watt heads wondering what happened.” As the woman laughed, one of the clerks broke away.
“Bad night?” the old man greeted Laken, stepping up to check her out.
“Yes.” Her hand trembled as she gave him a twenty dollar bill.
“Not feeling good?”
“No.” She took her change, not knowing or caring if it was correct.
“You better get home and take care of yourself.”
“That’s my plan.” She pulled on her strength and answered sounding better than she felt. “Goodnight.”
“Night,” the man returned as she moved to the door.
Outside, the rain had stopped, but it didn’t ease how Laken felt. In a stupor, she made it home, barely managed to swallow a dose of medicine, and then struggled out of her wet clothes before she fell into bed.
The nightmare started immediately. Her heart pounded, ready to explode. The heat burned unbearably, a hunger of its own, consuming her. She fought with the shadow, but it closed in, driving her farther into the darkness. She tried to run, but foggy hands held her back. The ground itself clung to her legs. Fire consumed her. No matter how she struggled, she couldn’t break free. The race was on. Death was at hand, she could feel it.
Long, powerful strides ate up the darkened alley. Exuberance rose in the hunter. In front of Laken, a figure darted. She felt the fear in the woman, tasted the terror. It was so powerful. The hunter’s pace quickened, taking Laken with him, but still the hunter didn’t break into a run. Their prey was trapped. The hunter could taste the victory. Fevered blood pumped hard. He savored the challenge, anticipated the kill. It sickened Laken.
Closer now, the prey stumbled and fell. She looked back over her shoulder, and for a moment, Laken looked into her own face, then it wasn’t hers. It shifted, changed slightly, familiar but unknown. The fear which shadowed the woman’s features spread into terror.
“No!” Laken saw the woman scream out as she reached for her. It wasn’t her hand. The hand which caught the woman had large, long fingers, undoubtedly masculine, encased in black gloves. Laken looked past the hand, back to the woman frozen in fear. Laken could feel terror radiate up through the hand. The hunter fed on it. The sense of power burst in him.
“Fight!” Laken tried to scream at her. The command became lost in the excitement and adrenaline of the hunter as he pulled the woman from the ground. Laken attempted to turn away, but was trapped as much as the woman. She fought to pull herself from the awful nightmare. Finally, as if her struggling somehow seeped to the woman, she began to fight. The hunter pulled her to him, wrapping an arm around her, holding her trapped against his body. Euphoria pounded through him. He looked down into the woman’s eyes as he plunged the knife into her back. Laken screamed for the woman as she watched her fall lifeless to the filth of the alley.
Satisfaction coursed through the hunter as he leaned down and, with a couple careless swipes, wiped the knife off on the woman’s sweater. He straightened, deliberately placed his foot on her back and ground it down before stepping over her. Task finished, he simply left, without so much as a glance back, finally letting Laken slip free into oblivion.

****

“You’re not going to like this.”
“What do we got, Jonesy?” Spencer ‘Mac’ MacDaniels asked as he eased his six-foot-four body from the car. He towered seven inches over his partner, and that was just the beginning of their differences. Marcus Jones had a stocky, compact body like a bull and dark brown hair, while Mac had a lean waist, broad shoulders and sandy hair.
“Female Caucasian, brown hair, age twenty-seven,” Jonesy recited as he led the way down the alley. “Name’s Andrea Chambers. They found her purse back there intact. It had about eighty bucks in cash and her cards still in it, so definitely not a robbery.”
“Is the team here?”
“Yeah, it’s all being handled by the book. If there’s anything, they’ll find it.”
Mac nodded, grimacing slightly as he stepped over a piece of trash and came down too hard on his left leg.
“You okay?” Jonesy asked.
After being partners for near three years, Mac figured Jonesy knew what the answer would be. “Yeah.” The leg that had taken a bullet three months earlier would never be the same again. Mac wondered just how long he had before he was forced into retirement.
Retirement… A couple months ago he couldn’t have imagine such a thing. Then in a flash, a bust had gone wrong when a civilian stepped in the way. He’d been able to draw the fire away from the man who had picked the wrong place and time to stop for a smoke. They got the shooter, but not before he’d been hit in the leg. Mac wanted to shake his head at the stupidity of it. He was a good cop, a good detective. Some might even say great. He and Jonesy had the best record in the city. That’s why he was back on duty, but for how long?
His thoughts shifted direction at the sight of the body lying amongst the trash in a puddle. He stayed back, letting the crime scene guys do their work, as he took in the surroundings, cataloging each detail. They’d give him photos of every inch of the area. Still, he liked to get the layout firm in his mind. Gradually, he moved in as close as he dared, getting his first real look at the woman. She lay face down so there wasn’t much he could tell.
“What we got, Rob?” he asked the man doing the grid beside her.
The man looked back over his shoulder. “Hey, MacDaniels.” The cheerfulness in the voice belied his profession. “How’s it goin’?”
“A lot better for me than her. What can you tell me?”
“One stab wound to the back. Judging from the body and weather conditions probably sometime last night. Give you a closer time later. I’d say she was facing the killer when she was stabbed. We’ll have to get the Medical Examiner’s report at the lab to confirm that and any other details. I do have one odd thing for you, though.”
“What’s that?” Jonesy said from beside him.
“See here.” Rob pointed a gloved finger toward an area on the woman’s back where there was a distinctive smudge spot.
“I’m getting a strong feeling that didn’t happen when she fell.” Jonesy studied the area.
“Nope, whoever killed her stepped on her, and not by accident. I’d say he deliberately smashed his foot down,” the tech put forth.
“Like he was grinding her under his foot,” Mac speculated so just his partner and tech could hear.
“That’s what it looks like to me,” Rob agreed in a hushed tone.
“Do me a favor.” Mac shifted his gaze away from the mark to the man. “Keep quiet about this, but give me extra pictures with measurement.”
“Knew you were going to say something like that — I’m way ahead of ya. I’ll pull anything I can from it.”
“Thanks.” Mac didn’t doubt Rob. He liked working with the man. Rob was the best at what he did. They all fell silent. While Rob worked, Mac and his partner studied the scene, so they could discuss it later. It was one of the things that made them so good together. They both could take in a scene and then pull it back up, rehashing it until they dissected every detail.
Mac didn’t like what he was getting. This was no accidental killing or domestic dispute. It had been planned, played out, and executed. He could feel it and knew it would happen again.

****

Laken groaned and forced her eyes open. She wasn’t dead, but she still felt awful. At least she wasn’t burning up. With another groan, she pushed herself up from the damp sheets. Looking at the clock, it read eleven fifty-five. A wave of panic swept over her. She only had an hour to make it to the office.
Springing from the bed, she swayed, catching herself on her dresser. She felt totally drained. However, she didn’t think she was going to die anymore. A shiver of dread went through her as the vision of the nightmare flashed through her mind in horrifying clarity. Shaking it off, she stumbled to the bathroom. After a five minute shower she felt more refreshed.
Twenty minutes later, she hurried from the apartment. Luckily, the buses were with her, and she made it to the office in record time, getting off the elevator with ten minutes to spare.
“Laken, what are you doing here?” Kathy Martin, the architectural group secretary, exclaimed from behind her desk. “You’re supposed to be home sick.”
“We have the Sherman presentation. Don’t worry, I’m all ready for it. As soon as it’s over, I’m going back home to bed. I just couldn’t miss this. I know they’ll love my designs. I added some extra features that make them perfect.” She let her enthusiasm boost her energy, but it faded quickly at the expression on the secretary’s face.
“But the presentation just ended. Mr. Hoster and Mr. Warner just took them to lunch.” Kathy sounded consoling.
Laken felt a different kind of sickness wave over her and shook her head in denial. “It can’t be. It has to be someone different. This is the Galaxy building, Mr. Sherman’s presentation. It’s not until one o’clock.” Her stomach clinched as Kathy shook her head.
“It was at eleven.” The woman tried to make it come out gently, but there was no softening the impact.
“But, when did they change it? Why didn’t someone call me?”
“It wasn’t changed. That’s when it’s always been scheduled for.”
“But Mr. Hoster said one.” Laken dropped on the corner of the desk as her legs could no longer hold her up. “I was to get to present my plans. They were one of the top three.” She raised a trembling hand to her forehead. “I spent so much time on them. They were perfect. I know they would’ve been chosen.” Her heart began to pound. “I can’t believe, after all that work, they didn’t let me present.” Laken rubbed at her temple, trying to clear her thoughts. “He left me out on purpose. Why?”
“Now Laken, I can’t believe that. Maybe it was because you were so sick. Still, after all that work, it doesn’t seem fair. Listen, you’d better go home and get some more sleep. I’ll mark that you were in today, so you can get a half day.”
“Oh, what? Okay.” Laken felt drained. She stood up and swayed. As with the presentation, all strength had been ripped from her.
“Are you all right?” Kathy rose, reaching for her.
“Yeah.” Laken steadied herself. “I just need to get home to bed.”
“Can I get someone to drive you?”
“I can catch a cab.” Laken swayed again.
“No, I’ll get Eric to drive you. He has some deliveries to do anyway. You don’t look so good.”

****

Eight hours later, Mac placed his elbows on his desk and rested his head against his hands. He was tired. He had a headache and his leg throbbed. Maybe getting out of police work wasn’t such a bad idea. Maybe he could meet a nice woman who wasn’t dead. Someone he could go home to. That he could love. Maybe even have a family. Oh, he knew a lot of guys on the force who had good marriages. His partner was one of them. Jonsey had a great marriage. But Mac felt his own life was too full of the dark side.
He went right from rookie to narcotics for five years, most of it undercover. The last seven he’d been in homicide, picking up the pieces of destroyed lives. Neither had been conducive to meeting decent women. Both were hard on relationships. He should know — he’d tried. With a sigh, he sat back, pulled open his drawer and got out the ibuprofen. He hoped that would do the job on his head and leg. He almost wished for something stronger, but after working narcotics, he couldn’t bring himself to take the pain pills the doctor had prescribed for him after leaving the hospital.
What he needed was sleep. Hopefully, there’d be some more information in the morning. It was time to follow Jonesy’s example and go home. And, again, he thought it would be a whole lot sweeter if someone was there waiting.

****

Laken felt much better as she hurried from the bus stop. She knew she probably should have stayed home again so she’d have a long weekend to get better, but she couldn’t wait until Monday to talk to Mr. Hoster. She wanted an explanation why he’d given her the wrong time. She’d gone over it again and again in her mind and knew it hadn’t been an accident. No doubt about it, but she didn’t understand why. He had always seemed respectful and appreciated her work.
Anger surged again. He knew how hard she’d worked on the plans. Why would he cut her out of the meeting? What could’ve been the purpose of not letting her present? She wished she could blame it on being sick, but down inside she knew that wasn’t the reason. The proof was in their interactions that week. He’d continually stressed the one o’clock time. After all that work, he’d done it on purpose.
The tears that had plagued her since the day before welled up. She was not going to cry. Pushing back the pain, she clung to the anger, she would get an explanation. Her plans had been good. They were more than good. They would have been chosen. She could wring Hoster’s neck.
For months now, she’d been wondering about her position at the company. Waiting for the opportunity to move up, or wondering if she should just move on. Living in the big city didn’t fit her, especially not the single life there. Hanging out at bars and talking with strangers was not her forte And it hadn’t taken her long to learn that inner-office dating was not a good idea even when working in a male-dominated office.
Her social life had become nonexistent about eight months earlier. Which left a lot of time in the evenings to work on plans, but she wanted a social life. She wanted to find someone special. To be honest, she wanted that more than she wanted her designs to be picked. Why couldn’t she have both? Well, she might not be able to do much about her love life, but she could find out why Hoster had excluded her and what her future held at the Warner Agency. She turned down the hall.
“You look better today,” Kathy greeted as she approached.
“I feel better, just a little draggy.”
“Maybe you should’ve taken another day,” Kathy suggested.
“I’m fine. I’ll have the weekend to rest up. Is Hoster in?” Laken glanced at the closed office door.
“Yes, but he left a do not disturb for the next couple hours.”
A wave of frustration rolled over Laken. She wanted answers — now. Resigned, she looked back at Kathy. “Will you set up an appointment for me before lunch?”
“Sure, eleven-thirty good?”
“Yes.”
Laken didn’t think eleven-thirty would ever get there. The morning dragged on forever. At twenty after, she left her drafting table and went to the ladies room to freshen up and steel herself for the confrontation. At twenty-five after, she strode up Kathy’s desk.
“I’m so sorry, Laken, I just tried to call you. Mr. Hoster hurried out a couple minutes ago. He said he had an important meeting and wouldn’t be back until Monday.” Kathy sounded genuinely upset. “I tried to tell him you wanted to talk to him.”
Laken’s stomach churned. The snake! He had avoided her on purpose — she had no doubt. Her heart pounded with frustration. “Can you set me an appointment for first thing Monday morning?” She ground the words out.
“I’ll make it nine-fifteen. He’s usually here by then,” Kathy answered.
Of course, Laken thought, not like her eight o’clock or earlier. “Thanks.” She forced out a weak smile. The smile faltered as she noticed the newspaper lying on the corner of Kathy’s desk. In a flash, Laken saw the face looking up at her as the killer’s hand reached down. Laken staggered. Lights slashed through her mind. Buzzing rang in her ears. For a minute, she thought she would faint. Kathy must have thought so too because the next thing Laken knew, Kathy had her by the elbow, directing her down to the chair.
“You should never have come in today,” Kathy was saying.
“No, I’m okay. Sorry.” Laken drew in a deep breath and reached for the newspaper. “The woman.” She couldn’t get any more out, starring down at a picture of the woman in her nightmare.
“Oh, that. Mr. Hoster dropped the paper on my desk as he left. I was just reading it. Scary.” Kathy looked over to her in concern. “Did you know her?”
“I think I’ve seen her before.”
“She worked in the building across the quad. And, actually, she wouldn’t have lived far from you. She was killed only a couple blocks from her apartment.”
The word killed hit Laken like a blow of ice, chilling her to the bone. “How was she killed?” She knew with a sick dread what the answer was going to be.
“Stabbed. Listen, I think you’d better head back home. You look really pale again.”
“I’m fine. Do you mind if I look at the paper a minute?”
“No, go ahead.” The secretary handed it to her, still looking her over.
The article didn’t say much more than Kathy had told her. Except the body was found in an alley not far from where Laken lived, and the police were looking for anyone who had information about the attack. Images poured through her mind in vivid detail: the chase, the fear, the exultation of the hunter. Laken’s heart pounded in her chest bringing with it a wave of nausea.
“Laken, are you all right?” The words finally got through to her.
“Yes, but I think I’m going to take your advice and leave now.”
“Good. Get some rest and don’t come in Monday if you don’t feel all better.”
“I’ll be fine, and I’ll be here for the appointment.” The only way she would miss it was if she were dead. A shiver went through her, and she took one last glance at the newspaper.
Laken really had planned to go home when she gathered her purse and jacket, but when the bus stopped in front of her she turned away and started walking. Her mind locked on a vision of the murder as it played over and over. No conscious thought came to her about where she was going or what she was going to do until, over an hour later, she found herself standing in front of the old, gray brick building of the police station.
“No, no way,” she said to herself as she placed a foot on the step. She couldn’t walk in there and say she had seen a murder in her dream. They’d think she was a wacko who got kicks harassing police, or plain psycho and she’d find herself locked up in mental ward. She tried to make herself turn as she took the next step, but then the image of the woman in the paper came to her mind and she took the last three. At the door, she paused again and almost had won the battle to turn away, when a man came out and held the door for her.
Laken swallowed hard and managed to step inside. She felt sick again. She shouldn’t be there. Heat waved over her. She should be home in bed, instead of being ushered through a metal detector.
She stared around the large lobby, not sure where to go or what to do. To the side of the door was a large staircase, next to it a set of elevators. Chairs filled with people lined up in two rows, backs together, in the center of the room. Directly ahead sat a tall, hardwood counter; several uniformed officers stood behind it.
“May I help you?” one officer said directly to her.
She managed to pull her resolve around her and step forward. “I think so.” She forced a swallow as her voice shook. “I’d like to speak with someone about the murder.”
“Which murder?” the man asked off-handedly.
How many murders did they get? Laken almost asked, and then decided she really didn’t want to know. “The one in the paper, the woman who was stabbed and left in the alley.” Funny, she couldn’t think of the name but would never forget the face.

Astraea Press Book Club

The Astraea Press Book Club on Face Book is a great way for readers to try new books and authors...for FREE! Each month one Astraea Presstitle is offered up for free to readers to read and enjoy. At the end of the month we have a chat with the author and a random drawing for an AP Swag Pack. Fun for all.

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