Trade Paperback: 9781970093117 ($15.99 US)
IN BOOK 20 OF THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN SERIES:
The clock is ticking as housewife assassin Donna Craig and her husband and mission partner Jack, race across the world to stop the assassinations of seven world leaders.
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Who designed Donna's dining room set?
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CLICK TO HEAR JOSIE READ CHAPTER ONE…
Chapter 1: Home Sweet Home
Repeat after me: “There’s no place like home… There’s no place like home…”
Home is where the heart is.
Okay, yeah, and the bills. And the dishes you left in the sink. Not to mention messy closets, needy pets, sulking kids—
And those annoying neighbors, who don’t know how to reel in their snarky teens who laugh when you ask very politely that they TURN DOWN THE SPEAKERS ON THEIR LOUD MUSIC.
Which is why you need a vacation.
It doesn’t matter that you are just coming back from one in which you loved every moment, savored each new experience, and created a few new memories.
Here’s a thought: Don’t unpack.
Instead, jump into the car. Head back to the airport.
From the terminal, search flights and hotel rooms for a place you’ve never been before but always wanted to visit.
Go ahead, be impulsive!
(But that doesn’t mean taking practice shots at the neighbor kid’s speaker system.)
* * *
In the life of a black-ops assassin, there is no such thing as normal.
Not even while sitting in a gym, listening to the shouts and cheers of two teams’ fans as my fifteen-year-old son, Jeff, sets up for a three-pointer.
And not while watching my seventeen-year-old daughter, Mary, sneak a kiss with her boyfriend, Evan Martin.
Not even as my youngest—Trisha, a fifth-grader—giggles and gossips with her bestie, Janie Chiffray.
Not at the joy of seeing my Aunt Phyllis, holding hands with her new squeeze: Porter Crosby, who also happens to be part of the Secret Service detail covering Janie because she is former President Lee Chiffray’s ten-year-old daughter.
And it certainly doesn’t happen when, instead of sweet nothings, my husband and mission partner, Jack, whispers in my ear, “Something’s come up, we need to talk…”
I have every right to sigh and ask for a hint.
When he follows up by stating that Ryan Clancy—our boss at the black-ops organization, Acme Industries—knows what highly important intelligence our treasonous and now deceased Commander-in-Chief, Bradley Edmonton, sold the Russians, I have every right to be worried.
I’ll admit it, I’m pissed off too.
We’ve just come home from a two-week-long mission on which I was almost strangled to death, had to fight off a hulking ex-Mossad agent set on killing me, was beaten with whips, threatened with a life sentence for treason, found a dead body, killed a few people, and watched two others die.
Don’t blame me if I’m up for a little Me Time.
But, no. Despite being home less than eight hours, duty calls.
So here we go again.
I frown. “Must we leave now?”
Jack shrugs. “We have no choice. It’s tied to Edmonton’s misdeeds. Ryan is at the office assembling our mission team.” He glances at the scoreboard. “Jeff’s game has just one more quarter. At the very least, one of us should take off now. Should we flip a coin to see who takes the kids home?”
I shake my head. “I’ll let you have the honor.”
Jack snorts. “Some honor!”
He’s right. It means he’ll have to break the news that I’ve been called away to the office, and right after he drops them off, he’ll join me.
At that point, their smiles will disappear too, replaced by frowns expressing their frustration with the reality of their parents’ lives, not to mention their fears for our safety.
“I’m sure that Porter will let you borrow his car so that you can go home and grab mine. He can pick up his car there.”
“Sounds like a plan.” I can’t keep the disappointment out of my voice.
Realizing this, Jack’s way to placate my frustration is a gentle kiss.
Trisha and Janie gasp at his audacity.
When Jack looks up, he winks at them, setting them off in a fit of giggles.
I tap Porter on the shoulder, then lean in to murmur the game plan. Porter’s smile dissolves with his concern. Still, he reaches into his pocket and hands me his key fob.
Aunt Phyllis, screaming encouragement for Jeff, is oblivious to Porter’s mood change. Lucky her. In the Craig household, bliss is ever-fleeting.
It’s only times like these that I hate my life.
* * *
As I drive through Hilldale’s gate, I wave to the security guard, Jerry Frasier.
Looking up from his book, he smiles and waves back.
When I left the gym, Jeff’s game had another ten minutes of play. But with timeouts, the crowd’s dispersal, and traffic, I assume Jack is a half hour or more behind me.
We live on one of our planned community’s quietest streets. It ends in a cul-de-sac. When I pull up to the house, I notice a Volkswagen Beetle parked between it and that of our neighbors’ home, who are on vacation. A man sits on the driver’s side. Although it’s overcast, he wears dark glasses—not unusual, since we’re living the suburgatory life just outside LaLa Land. Here, everyone is a star or would like to be one.
He’s also got on a beanie, which hides the color and shape of his head. And whereas this is the chapeau of choice of the glitterati, this ain’t Beverly Hills.
My Spidey sense is a-tinglin’.
I circle the cul-de-sac and drive off. If this stranger knows our cars for some reason, he won’t suspect that I’m behind the wheel because Porter’s car has tinted windows. Although Beanie’s head isn’t moving, I imagine he will keep an eye on Porter’s car until it is out of sight. And if he’s tapped into our gated community’s security feed—heck, if I were casing a house, I’d certainly have done so—he’ll now see me drive out of Hilldale.
We planted two large box hedges between the four-lane road that backs our street and the high fence in our backyard. That way, we’ve concealed the very short driveway between them, which allows us to make a quick getaway from Hilldale without going through the community’s security gate.
A moment later, I’m parked there.
Like every home in Hilldale, we have the standard-issue alarm system. When I try to access it now, I can’t. Apparently it has been disarmed. Otherwise the Hilldale Police would have pulled up like a SWAT team on Red Bull hyperdrive.
What Beanie doesn’t know is that we have another alarm system, customized by Acme. Should a break-in occur, it sends a signal to an app on my iPhone. I usually have it on, but today I turned it off during the game. Stupid me!
I now swipe through the screens of the various webcams hidden throughout our house. As I suspected, Beanie’s partner is inside. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, and dressed all in black, including his ski mask.
Our dogs, Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, are prostrate on the kitchen floor. He must have drugged them to get into the house. I zoom in tight. Their chests go up and down, so they are still breathing, thank goodness.
Ski Mask carries some sort of small suitcase. I don’t recognize it as one of ours, so he isn’t stealing it. In fact, he is moving out of the great room and into the foyer.
Cautiously, he makes his way upstairs.
Bad boy. For that, he shall get his comeuppance—
Now that Mommy is home.
* * *
I call Arnie Locklear, my mission team’s tech operative. “Hey, where are you guys?” he asks. “Ryan is so anxious for you to get here that he’s treading a ditch in the conference room floor.”
“Jack is on his way back with the kids, and I was about to leave from the house—until I realized a home invasion is taking place. And something tells me they aren’t after the family jewels.”
“I don’t know. But just in case, start surveillance on my block immediately. You’ll see a Volkswagen Beetle parked between our house and that of the neighbors. If it takes off, track it.”
“On it,” Arnie promises.
“Also, tap into our home security so that both of us have eyes and ears on the situation.”
“Roger that,” Arnie assures me. “Is Jack aware of the situation?”
“No—and…” I sigh. “I don’t want to freak out the kids, so let’s keep it that way.”
“No kidding! If the kids come home to a bloodbath…” His voice trails off.
What is unspoken is the possibility that the blood spilled might be mine.
I guess he’s right. Jack needs to know the score. “Call him, Arnie. Tell him to drop the kids, Aunt Phyllis, and Porter at Lee’s place in case I have to exterminate a rat… or two.”
“Will do. Donna, please…stay safe.” He signs off. I’ve never heard Arnie so concerned.
With a click of a button, the hedge and the fence slide to one side, leaving an opening just three feet wide.
I edge the yard so that I’m not in the sightline of either Beanie or Ski Mask. I enter through the back door, which leads into the kitchen.
* * *
A well-stocked kitchen is an assassin’s toolbox.
While it would make sense to pull out one of the many guns hidden in the drawer secreted in the kitchen island, I choose not to because I want to avoid bullet holes, especially in my bedroom. Its wallpaper is a Schumacher pattern: in other words, costly. And since it’s been discontinued, I have no choice but to go with some less intrusive weapons, albeit just as deadly.
I pull out my custom-hammered eight-inch Half Face blade from a decorative woodblock set. This little beauty is not usually found in the average housewife’s kitchen. I tuck this little assassin’s tool into my boot. Here’s hoping any blood splatter is minimal. My Afghan carpets are expensive to clean.
Then, from the pantry, I grab a thick metal mop but unscrew its detachable head.
I also grab a jar of coconut oil along with a dishrag. As an afterthought, I pick up Jeff’s laser pointer, which he uses to chase raccoons away from our garbage cans.
As I move into the dining room, I pick up the vermouth spritzer from the liquor cart. I open it, dump its contents into the empty ice bucket, and fill it with the Bacardi Rum 151: cheap, mixable, and flammable.
My last stop: the foyer. While waiting at the bottom of the stairs, I scoop out a large glob of the coconut oil with the dishrag and rub it liberally onto the fourth and fifth steps.
Then I position myself to one side so that I won’t be immediately seen from the stairs.
From my phone’s security app, I watch where Ski Mask opens one door after another—
Until he finds the master bedroom.
He looks around, taking his time. First, he peruses the items on Jack’s highboy. All it holds is a small box for pocket change and a photo of the family. He then moves to my dresser. My jewelry box is front and center. The items inside are paste: pieces the girls consider cute and are allowed to wear on special occasions. The good stuff is hidden in a secret panel under the floor of my closet.
Ski Mask also notices the mirrored tray with perfume atomizers. He picks one up, sniffs it without spraying, shrugs, then sets it down again.
Starting from the bottom, he pulls out each dresser drawer, glances inside, then closes it—
Until he gets to my lingerie. There he lingers, tweaking my unmentionables with his fingers. He picks up one: a gray lace panty.
He pockets it.
It’s one of Jack’s favorites. Ergo, it will not leave this house.
As for Ski Mask, the only reason he won’t be fertilizer for my rose bushes is the fact that the kids will be home any moment now.
Speaking of which, he is now staring at the tall, narrow Grandfather clock. It is positioned in the corner of the room, giving the three cameras hidden in its face a view from every angle.
(And, no, Jack and I have never filmed ourselves in the heat of passion…
Okay, maybe once. BY MISTAKE.
And yes, we erased it.
At least, Jack told me he did…
Darn it! Does Ski Mask suspect it may have an embedded lens?
He must. Or else he’s not taking any chances that he might be on Candid Camera because he whips a sham off one of the pillows and covers the clock’s face with it.
What does he want from our bedroom?
If I go upstairs to find out, the showdown takes place up there. Should things go downhill fast, I don’t need the ghost of Ski Mask haunting my bedroom, thank you very much.
And if things go awry, Jack wouldn’t want me haunting the bedroom either.
(Yes, I’ll be keeping a vigilant watch on his life in my afterlife.)
My decision: wait until Ski Mask comes downstairs.
* * *
Whatever he does up there, it doesn’t take long.
And he’s hellbent on hightailing it out of here.
Especially when, as planned, he tumbles down the staircase, which the coconut oil made even more slippery than my weekly waxing.
He falls on his face.
As he tries to rise to his knees, I crack him over the head with the metal mop pole.
He collapses again. This time, it’s lights out.
And not a moment too soon.
His pal, Beanie, is standing in the dining room doorway.
A sumo wrestler would envy his bulk, whereas it fills me with dread.
The best defense is a good offense. I wield the pole like a bat, following through as if hitting a home run over the left-field fence—
Except Beanie ducks into the dining room, so it’s a swing and a miss.
When I follow him, he thinks nothing of tossing a chair in my direction.
“Whoa, asshole! Those are originals—Hans Wegner! And in mahogany, no less!”
His response is a grunt. Still, he’s mollified enough to put down yet another chair.
Instead, he grabs a highball glass from the sideboard. He slams it against the table. What’s left of it could easily cut my jugular.
Now, this should keep me on my toes…
With my pole, I aim to whack the wrist holding the lethal shard—
Only to have Beanie grab it before it reaches its destination.
He yanks it forward, and me along with it.
But I’m prepared. I spritz him in the face with the rum and break free of his grasp.
His scream is loud enough to wake the dead. Or at least his buddy, who is now moaning.
Right now, I’m more worried about Beanie, who is charging straight at me, blind but determined.
Well, so am I:
To live to see my children grow up.
To grow old with my husband.
To save what’s left of my dining room furniture.
My first kick is to Beanie’s groin. As he doubles over, he gets a knee to the nose. When his head snaps up, my second kick—to his chest—sends him reeling backward. Beanie slams into the wall, slumping against it. But he’s jolted it so hard that my one-hundred-pound ornate silver mirror breaks free of its hook and lands on his head.
I crouch to feel his pulse. There isn’t any.
At least the mirror stayed in one piece. The last thing I need is seven years of bad luck.
I hear him before I see him: Ski Mask stands in the foyer doorway. His eyes, fogged, grow wide. Suddenly, I’ve got a gun aimed at my head.
I lunge behind the mirror.
His bullet shatters it.
It’s now or never…
(c) 2020 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.
(c) 2020 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the publisher, Signal Press (firstname.lastname@example.org).