A sadistic psychopath has Maria Milan in his crosshairs. He wants to possess her, to own her, to destroy her. Maria is unaware that she’s become the center of a madman’s fantasy, until his hired killer comes knocking at her door.
Sean Riley is that hitman, but he has no intention of fulfilling his contract to torture Maria. Further complicating matters, he falls for her. Hard. He’s fearless, relentless, and now, he’s willing to burn down the city to protect her.
Michael Sykora tries to keep Sean from going off the rails as, together, they begin a hunt for the madman called Sandman.
Excerpt from Killing Instinct
Sean Riley looked down at the woman he’d been hired to kill. Even before he’d partnered with Michael Sykora and tamed his deadly skills, he’d disliked killing women. Back then, he’d probably have turned down this job. Not that he’d have altered the outcome. Someone else always stood next in line, wanting
the money and willing to kill for it.
Even sleeping, with her jet-black hair scattered across the pillow and a drop of drool slipping from the corner of her mouth, her beauty took his breath away. This woman, whose name was Maria Milan, should be dead by now. Jake, the man who’d paid for her murder, wanted her to die slowly. To suffer. Jake had specified the use of a knife, keeping the plunges slow and only deep enough to shatter her
nervous system. Keep her alive until the last possible moment.
Jake did not have balls enough to do it himself.
He wanted photos. A recording of her screams. He’d asked for video, as if Sean was a slice-and-dice movie producer instead of a high-priced hit man.
Sean stood in the shadows of the bedroom, watching Maria sleep. He’d done the unthinkable. For the first time in his long, restless and oddly successful career, he’d had sex with the intended victim. More than that. He’d gotten involved. He’d fallen for this woman who’d been marked to endure excruciating horrors at his own hands.
He shifted in the darkness, wishing he could crawl back under the sheet. He already missed the feel of her skin pressed against his own. With a quiet sigh, he tugged his pants on. He had a job to do.
Fully dressed, he gazed back at Maria. The moonlight fell across her face. She didn’t stir. Her beauty glowed. He knew things about her now. And she knew things about him. They’d become tangled in ways
he hadn’t expected.
Sean went out to the kitchen and grabbed the backpack he’d left by the door. He flipped the light on, squinting at the brightness. When his eyes adjusted, he checked the contents. One roll of heavy duct tape. A few small towels for use as gags. Rope. Zip ties. A full syringe. His Black Ops knife. He fingered the metal, thought about the meaning of what he needed to do. What he might not have done a year ago. What it would all mean to him, to his future. To Maria.
He stepped back into the bedroom. Maria had rolled onto her side. Her hair spilled over her cheek. The sheet fell away, exposing flesh he’d lingered over not long ago. A smile played on his lips. He’d enjoy this job, this killing, more than anyone had a right to.
With a last look over his shoulder, he left Maria behind and headed out to his car.
Getting in couldn’t have been easier. No alarm, no dogs, and a flimsy lock on the side door of the garage. The space smelled of mold and motor oil. Sean switched on his penlight and stepped around the clutter of toolboxes and empty beer cases. He slipped past a long metal footlocker, idly wondering what was inside worthy of the heavy lock. Then he squeezed between the Mustang and the workbench covered with fishing rods. The shiny new Mustang belonged to one of Jake’s roommates. Jake drove the faded Chevy Malibu in the driveway.
The door separating the garage from the interior of the house was hollow wood. A child could break through this door. Sean was a little dismayed at the lack of challenge.
Less than a minute later, he stood inside a small kitchen trying not to gag on the smell of stale beer and fried onions. What the hell had these people eaten for dinner? The digital clock in the stove glowed 4:02. The time of morning when deep sleep made people blissfully unaware.
Sean crept through a living room boasting a fifty-inch TV and Salvation Army furniture. Then down the narrow hall. Three doors leading into three bedrooms. All three doors closed. Behind one door, the rattle of a congested snore. Silence behind the other two.
He walked to the end of the hall and quietly turned the knob on the door to his left. Jake the Snake had begun as a client, not a target. But Sean left nothing to chance. He knew where his clients worked, slept, ate, and played. He’d paid particular interest in this case. He’d known Jake would be something more than a client. At the time, he hadn’t been sure what that something would be. Then he’d met Maria and now here he was. Jake slept on his back, his arms flung over his head. He wore boxers, which was a bonus. Sean hated when his targets slept naked.
The carpet absorbed the sound of his footsteps. He pulled a rag from one pocket of his black cargo pants, the filled syringe from another. Killing Jake now would be effortless. Sean could slice Jake’s carotid artery and be out the door before he bled out. Or snap his neck and be back in bed beside Maria before the dead glaze settled in his eyes.
But instant death wasn’t in the plan for Jacob Jackling. This man who’d wanted Maria tortured, who’d wanted a recording of her screams, was going to talk. He’d be treated to an up close and personal experience with torture.
Sean took a slow breath, then jammed the rag into Jake’s mouth while jabbing the needle into the bulging vein in his neck. Jake woke in an instant but awareness came too slowly. The rag absorbed the scream. His eyes locked on Sean’s and widened in surprise, then terror. By the time his mind thought to flee, the Propofol was taking effect. His muscles fought for control but Sean easily held him still. Soon his eyelids drifted closed.
After wrapping the used needle inside the rag, Sean stuffed them back in his pocket. Then he crossed the room and quietly opened the door. He stood listening for a moment. Satisfied the two roommates remained asleep, Sean went back for Jake. With a soft grunt, he lifted Jake and let the body flop over his shoulder. Thankfully, the guy hadn’t been into weightlifting. Sean scowled as he made his way out to the garage. He was getting too old for shit like this.
He dumped Jake on the grass beside the garage door, then went back inside. Thirty seconds of rummaging and he came up with the keys to Jake’s Malibu. He made sure both doors were locked before going around to the driveway. A quick glance told him the street remained quiet. No one out for their morning paper or a jog before work. Still too early for that.
He opened the trunk and quickly popped the tiny glowing light. The streetlights seemed overly bright in the otherwise dark predawn. Sean studied the houses nearby. No lights. No silhouettes by the windows. Blinds were drawn. Doors remained closed.
A minute later, he had Jake in the trunk and was driving slowly past the neighbors’ homes. His own truck sat near the back of a nearby Wal-Mart parking lot, open 24-hours for his convenience.
With the absence of traffic, the drive would take less than twenty minutes. He was bringing Jake to a place he’d bought long ago, using one of his many untraceable identities. He paid the taxes, kept up the property. No one bothered him there.
Behind the clusters of moss-draped oak trees, and the tangle of puncture vine weeds and anemic palm trees, accessible only by a dirt path barely wide enough for a car, stood a plain metal building. To anyone who happened upon it, the building looked like a storage facility. No windows. A door at one end, fitted with three high-tech locks. The surveillance cameras imbedded under the eaves were invisible unless you were specifically hunting for them. The alarm system triggered extra, reinforced locks on sixinch steel doors that slid down behind the outer doors. The inside was thoroughly soundproofed.
Ten minutes later, Sean had Jake strapped to a wooden chair bolted to the concrete floor. He sat opposite Jake, on a similar but unbolted chair, reading Guns & Ammo magazine and waiting for his target to awaken.
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