Home > With Every Breath (Slow Burn #4)

With Every Breath (Slow Burn #4)
Author: Maya Banks

ONE


ELIZA came awake with none of her usual crispness and ready-to-take-on-the-world attitude. She felt as though she’d been hit by a truck and her first instinct was to roll over and pull the covers over her head and sleep for several more hours. Even as she knew she wouldn’t do any such thing, it was still a nice thought. Still, she thought she could give herself another five minutes before stumbling out of bed and into the shower.

For once, things were slow at Devereaux Security Services after a veritable shit storm of activity over the last several months. She only hoped something popped up when she went into the office today, otherwise it was going to be another boring-ass day at work.

Just as she roused herself from her laziness and threw her legs over the side of the bed to stand, the landline on her nightstand rang. She glanced down at it, frowning. If it was Dane or anyone else from DSS, surely they’d call her cell. A quick look told her that her cell phone was on the nightstand charging and a glance at it also told her she hadn’t missed any calls. If this was a telemarketer calling her at oh-dark-thirty so help her she was going to hunt them down and shove her foot as far up their ass as she could.

If it weren’t for the fact that it could be one of her coworkers she would have simply ignored the ringing all together. With a sigh, she yanked up the phone and barked an unwelcome hello into the receiver.

There was a short pause and then the clearing of a throat. “Miss Caldwell? Melissa Caldwell?”

Eliza froze, her blood turning to ice in her veins. She hadn’t heard that name in ten years. Hadn’t been that person in ten years. And in two seconds flat, her past had slammed into her present like a speeding train.

“What do you want?” she asked in a dull voice.

“This is Clyde Barksdale, district attorney for Keerney County, Oregon.”

She knew damn well who Clyde Barksdale was. Like she’d forget that it was him she’d worked with to put Thomas Harrington away?

“I take it this isn’t a social call,” she said acidly.

“You’d be correct.” The DA emitted an exhausted sounding sigh. “Look, there’s no easy way to say this but Thomas Harrington won an appeal to overturn his conviction and he’ll be set free in three weeks’ time.”

Eliza’s knees folded and she landed with a hard bounce on the bed. She was utterly numb with shock, and she shook her head in an effort to dispel the fog and confusion surrounding her. Was this some fucked-up dream—nightmare—she was trapped in?

“What?” she whispered in horror. “What the fuck? What do you mean his conviction was overturned? Is this some kind of twisted joke?”

“He must have gotten to one of the cops who worked his case,” the DA said in a furious voice. “It’s the only explanation. The cop admitted under oath to tampering with evidence in order to make the case against Harrington a slam dunk. As if we goddamn needed the evidence when we had your testimony. But with his admission, and the fact that you were painted as a scorned child, angry and humiliated by the rejection of an older man, the court had no choice but to exonerate him.”

Eliza was speechless. She was absolutely paralyzed and awash with a multitude of differing emotions. Sweat beaded her forehead and nausea swirled in her gut. She was going to be sick. This couldn’t be happening. They couldn’t let such a dangerous sociopathic monster free! Ever!

“When?” she managed to croak out.

Oh dear God, she was going to be sick. She clamped a hand over her mouth and sucked in mouthfuls of air in a desperate effort not to heave up the contents of her stomach.

“Three weeks,” the DA said grimly. “I’ve thrown everything at the courts that I can. I’ve tried everything in my power to pull together enough evidence to nail him with something—anything—that would prevent him walking out of prison a free man and my hands are goddamn tied! He can’t be tried for murder again and we can’t hope to press rape charges because we don’t have any viable evidence. It would be your word against his. All that can be done at this point is for one of his victims, the only surviving victim—you—to file a civil suit and that does jack.”

“Oh dear God,” Eliza breathed, her voice muffled by the hand still held tightly over her mouth. “He’ll kill again. He thinks he’s invincible, that he’s God, and him beating the system just proves his superiority in his mind.”

“He’ll want revenge, Miss Caldwell,” the DA said quietly. “He’ll come after you. I had to call and warn you.”

“I hope to hell he does,” she said savagely.

But even as she spoke, she shook her head, her thoughts in chaos as she attempted to sort through her horror. No. Fuck that. To hell with running, hiding, all the things Thomas would expect her to do. He’d expect to find that same sixteen-year-old timid girl so desperate for love and acceptance.

No, she wasn’t running. She would go after him. She would make it damn easy for him to find her because she would be waiting when he was released in prison. And then she’d take him down and send him to hell where he belonged.

Alarm sounded in the DA’s voice. “Miss Caldwell, don’t do anything you’ll regret. I called you because you had the right to know and so you could take protective measures and heed caution.”

“I can assure you, Mr. Barksdale, my only regret is that I didn’t take him out the first time,” she said in an ice-cold tone. Steely determination gripped her. She was infused with purpose. A goal. One she would not fail in.

As she quietly disconnected the call, her nostrils flared and she embraced the frigid chill that had invaded her limbs the second the DA had announced the reason for his call. She had to lock down her rioting emotions or she’d go insane with grief—and guilt.

Her eyes closed and her head lowered, so much anguish threatening to overwhelm her. She shook her head vehemently, refusing to give in to despair. The justice system had utterly failed Thomas Harrington’s victims. It had failed her.

No one knew Thomas like she did. No one knew of his enormous power and how so very easily he could enthrall his victims. There was nothing left but for her to seek justice and to protect the only people in the world who mattered to her. The only people she had allowed herself to get close to in the ten years since she’d put the man she’d loved with all the innocence of a teenaged girl away for what she thought had been for good.

Only now he would be set free, and it was up to her to ensure that he would claim no further victims. Even if it meant being consigned to hell right along with him.

She should have killed him, but she’d naïvely believed in the system and that he would pay for his crimes. Now, she knew better, and unless she stopped him, he’d kill and keep killing.

 

 

TWO

“ALL set?” Wade Sterling asked his good friend, perhaps his only friend, Anna-Grace Covington.

Wade the quintessential lone wolf. He shunned personal relationships of any kind and he had little time for friends. Having a friend meant a level of trust he simply wasn’t able to give another person. Blind faith wasn’t what had made him the ruthless, successful businessman he’d become.

But his own self-imposed rules had simply disappeared when he’d met Anna-Grace. True, at first, he’d been interested in her on a more personal level, but he’d quickly discovered that the vulnerable, fragile woman had suffered unimaginable tragedy and a relationship—any kind of romantic or sexual relationship—with a man was the last thing she needed or wanted.

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