BEYOND SALVATION

A religious cult offers salvation to the lost and the lonely. But for the youth in their grasp, simple obedience is not an option. They submit—or die.

Michael Sykora’s mission to find a missing teen leads him into the the depths of the depraved web. And saving the girl is no longer his singular intent. Now he plans to take down the entire cult and expose its leaders’ madness.

Sometimes you need a killer to face off against evil.

 

Excerpt from Beyond Salvation

Chapter 1

Nicki had a way of turning Michael on, even while wearing yellow rubber gloves and an oversized Buccaneers t-shirt. So what if her amber eyes flashed with bleach-induced craziness. That was part of her charm. Michael stubbornly stuck with his “just friends” façade, while underneath it all he couldn’t deny that sizzle.

“This place still feels contaminated,” Nicki said.

She stood in her kitchen, gripping a wet sponge in one dripping yellow-gloved hand. Michael leaned against the wall, straight-faced because even cracking a smile would likely earn him a slap. He said, “It smells like a truckload of Clorox exploded in here.”

“I’ve scrubbed everything twice,” Nicki said. “Not counting the cleaning you and I did before I moved back in. But I can still smell him.”

“Does he smell like bleach?”

“No, but keep it up and you will.”

“The best forensic team in the country wouldn’t be able to find a trace of that guy in here.”

Nicki dropped the sponge in the bucket and pulled off her gloves. She said, “But I know he was here, touching everything, breathing my air.”

Michael stepped closer and wrapped his arms around Nicki. A loose ponytail held her long deep brown hair away from her face, though a few stray strands had managed to free themselves to caress her cheeks. Golden highlights shimmered in the stream of sunlight coming in through the window. The faint scent of her perfume managed to capture him through the haze of bleach. As always, Michael’s body reacted despite his mind’s protests.

Michael did his best to ignore the desire that always came with being close to Nicki. He said, “It’s been three weeks.”

“I know,” Nicki said. “I’m being stupid. I can’t help it.”

Having someone break into your apartment, rip the place apart, hide out there, then drag you outside in an attempt to kidnap, gang rape, and kill you, would make most anyone behave a little nuts. Thinking about how close Nicki had come to death still made his stomach clench. He said, “You’re safe now.”

“Thanks to you,” Nicki replied. She planted a kiss on Michael’s cheek, then spun on her bare toes, doing a little twirl before heading toward the refrigerator. “Which brings me back to my earlier proposition. Have you thought about it?”

Michael shook his head. “I already told you, the answer is no.”

“So you haven’t thought about it then. Want a root beer? Or a water? I bought you Perrier.”

“You’re trying to bribe me with water?”

“Desperate measures.”

“I’ll take the water,” Michael said. But the answer is still no.”

Nicki handed Michael a bottle of Perrier and opened a root beer for herself. “We’d make great partners,” she said.

“No.”

“I could be an asset. I still have connections on the street. And, back when I was in the business, a local cop was one of my regulars. I’m sure he’d rather provide me with occasional information than have his captain find out he was paying for sex.”

“Nicki -”

“And I’ve even come up with a name for our business.”

Michael sank onto one of the kitchen chairs. He put his Perrier bottle on the table and rubbed his hands over his face. “We have no business for you to name,” he said into his palms.

“Lost and Found,” Nicki said

She plopped onto a chair beside him, grinning like a happy child. Whether her happiness came from the concept of running a business together or from tormenting him was hard to tell. Probably a little of both. Despite his resistance, Michael found himself saying, “Lost and Found?”

“Catchy, don’t you think?” Nicki replied. “We’ll be a place where people go to find someone they’ve lost. A missing family member, a runaway kid, things like that. The cops don’t do much in those situations. So we’d find them. Hence, Lost and Found.”

“That’s what P.I.s are for.”

“Sure, private investigators do that, too. But we’d be better at it because we wouldn’t be constrained by all the nuisance laws that licensed investigators have to follow. It would be our specialty.”

“Our specialty,” Michael said.

“Now you’re catching on,” Nicki replied with a wink.

“No.”

“Then, of course, there’d be the other side of the business.”

“Other side?”

“Yeah, like you do now but you’d have me to help you.”

“Jesus…” Michael muttered.

“Restoring the balance,” Nicki said. “Isn’t that how you put it the other day?”

In a slow, deliberate tone, Michael said, “Nicki, you are not a hit man.”

“Hell, I know that silly. I’d be your assistant.”

“My assistant.”

“Why do you keep repeating my words?”

“I’m hoping they will somehow sound better the second time around.”

Nicki chuckled. “Don’t be so uptight. You know this would work. You could give up the software design. And don’t deny having told me that you’re tired of it.”

“I’m not denying that.”

“The Lost and Found name works perfectly for both aspects of our business. The legitimate end speaks for itself. Then, for that other segment of people who need us, we’ll find the bad guys and make them disappear. Lost and Found in reverse.”

“No.”

Undaunted, Nicki said, “Think about it. I have a feeling the idea will grow on you.”

“No.”

“We’ll talk about it more later,” Nicki said. “I’m going to shower, then you can take me out for Mexican food.”

Michael shook his head in exasperation. Nicki had more determination than anyone he’d ever met. And while his common sense screamed for him to put an end to her crazy ideas, a part of him was intrigued. He sighed, took a swallow of Perrier, and acknowledged that he very well may have lost his
mind.

 

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