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Security specialist and PI Jamie Sinclair crosses interstate boundaries—and personal ones too—in this electrifying thriller from an award-winning author who “understands how to keep her readers riveted from beginning to end” (USA Today).
With a long list of high-profile, high-paying clients, Jamie Sinclair has her hands full—and that’s the way she likes it. Still reeling from the brutal investigation that drove a wedge between her and her boyfriend, military police officer Adam Barrett, Jamie is counting on hard work to help her forget her recent history—but then DEA agent Marc Sandoval barges back into her life. The last time they worked together, Jamie almost crossed all kinds of lines. Now Marc doesn’t just want Jamie, he needs her . . . because she’s the only one who can help him—and the little boy he never told her about.
Marc’s ex has vanished, leaving their six-year-old son in his care. Despite a troubled past, Elena never wavered in her duties as a parent, so something must be very wrong now. Teaming with Marc to track Elena through her home state of Colorado and beyond, Jamie finds herself on a cross-country search for the missing mother of Marc’s child, at a crossroads with Adam, and on a collision course with the killers who’ll stop at nothing to find Elena first.
Don’t miss any of Nichole Christoff’s white-knuckle Jamie Sinclair thrillers: THE KILL LIST | THE KILL SHOT | THE KILL BOX | THE KILL SIGN | THE KILL WIRE
“Intelligent and fast-paced, Nichole Christoff’s debut thriller takes off like a rocket and never slows down.”—New York Times bestselling author Karen Rose, on The Kill List
“Christoff doesn’t make the adventure a cake walk. She understands how to keep her readers riveted from beginning to end.”—USA Today, on The Kill Shot
“An edge-of-the-seat thriller that doesn’t let up until the very last page.”—Library Journal, on The Kill Box
Under the Cover
An excerpt from The Kill Wire
Meet me, the final line of the text message read, on the edge of the compass.
And before I could click my iPhone closed, tuck it into my jacket pocket, and make up my mind to flag a cab to return to my Georgetown office, where I could bury myself under a mountain of reports and financial projections instead, the device trembled with an incoming message one more time.
Please, the sender implored, don’t say no.
The timeliness of the text and an abundance of caution prompted me to scan the street in a slow circle. No one, however, from the tourists on the double-decker buses trundling down Constitution Avenue to the food-truck drivers maneuvering into parking spaces along the National Mall in advance of the lunch rush, appeared to be overly interested in me as I stood on the street reading my messages. But being in the heart of Washington, DC, it was tough to tell.
Interns in bright spring dresses and ballet flats that snicked and clicked on the pavement, bike messengers with sinewy physiques, and a trio of male runners in high-tech sneakers buzzed by me. The runners were Secret Service types, or maybe even Navy SEALs. They were so fit, reality TV stars would do almost anything to build surreal bodies like theirs—except, of course, sign up to serve their country. None of them so much as glanced my way, however, and in the buildings clustered close to the avenue, I didn’t pick out binoculars reflecting the thin sunshine in any of the myriad windows, or even a stuffed shirt wearing a starched collar and necktie with his face pressed to the glass to peer down at me. Over my shoulder stood the monolith that was National Archives, where my client, Chief Conservator Wendy Jessup, had delivered me to a side exit after our meeting, but even she had disappeared into the bowels of the building once again.
Wendy, an archivist by trade, had wanted me to meet with her at work—and away from her home, where she’d suspected the healthcare worker she’d hired to take care of her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother had really been using Wendy’s house to run a brisk business selling OxyContin to strangers like the place was some kind of twenty-first-century opium den. I’d brought her relatively good news. Each afternoon, after school, the nurse’s aide had been busing her eleven-year-old kid—and her kid’s friends—from their high-crime neighborhood to Wendy’s Van Ness bungalow. All the late-day traffic into and out of the house, which Wendy’s neighbors had observed and worried her about, was nothing more than grateful parents stopping by to pick up their kids before Wendy got home—and from what I’d been able to determine when I’d weaseled my way inside, posing as the city’s friendliest radiator inspector, Wendy’s forgetful mother had loved the company of all those young people. That was no small thing, given that a disease like Alzheimer’s shuts down a person’s cognitive and social functions and isolates them from the rest of the world.
Being an archivist, Wendy had a knack for categorizing people, places, and things. So as soon as I’d told her what was truly happening at her house, she’d seen all the good in what had appeared to be bad. But not everything—or everyone—fell firmly into one of those two categories. And that, as I’d discovered just three short weeks ago, included me.
In my pocket, my phone vibrated again.
I didn’t bother to look at it this time. Instead, I turned toward the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History directly across the street—and set off to meet the man who’d asked me to join him at the edge of the compass.
The Natural History building’s broad granite steps swept wide from Constitution Avenue, and I made quick work of them, trotting to the top. I approached the menacing metal detectors inside the museum’s heavy bronze doors and joined the line shuffling past a plain oak table. There, a gaggle of junior high students noisily emptied their backpacks under the auspices of teachers and watchful security guards. It may’ve been early March, and winter, though soft along the Mid-Atlantic, had yet to turn the corner into warmer weather, but school systems traditionally picked a week during this month to close for vacation and called it Spring Break anyway.
Consequently, at some point in their academic lives, practically every kid in America got shipped to the nation’s capital for their school’s annual Spring Break class trip. As a result, the kids at the security checkpoint weren’t the only ones clamoring to take in the sights and sounds of Washington, DC—or even of the Natural History Museum.
Under the dome of the main hall’s rotunda, screeching children, weary parents, and frustrated chaperones hustled and bustled while the great African Elephant, preserved and brought to the museum in 1959 and weighing in at twelve tons, towered over them all, his trunk raised in salutation. Kids rocketed down the corridor toward the National Fossil Hall. Others stampeded into the museum’s IMAX theater. In my estimation, however, the best exhibits could be found upstairs, tucked into the wide wing that housed minerals and gemstones. Some of those specimens probably required a forklift to shift. But each offered glorious examples of fracture pattern and fluorescence, structure and saturation. In fact, some of the smaller stones featured colors so vibrant and so translucent, I was tempted to pluck them from their showcases and pop them into my mouth like candy at every visit.
The oddly ethereal Hope Diamond held court in that wing, too. Once privately owned, it now belonged to the people of an entire nation. And if its fabled curse was indeed transferrable, my fellow Americans and I just might be in trouble.
But I wouldn’t be visiting the diamond today, or the other gems, either. Instead, I stuck to the stone circle—a compass actually—embedded in the great hall’s floor. Revealed after a 2015 renovation, the inlay picked out the cardinal directions, and on the south side of the hall, beneath the glorious rotunda, two docents attempted to organize a flock of little kids.
These kids were much younger than the others rampaging through the building. They were kindergarteners, judging by their size, or they topped out in first grade at most. And when one docent whipped out a hand puppet, the children knew what to do. All sixteen of them dropped to the stone floor to sit cross-legged in a ragged semicircle for a casual quiz about everything they’d seen and heard at the museum that morning.
A half dozen young parents hovered behind the ring of children, efficient-looking moms with highlights in their styled hair and dads wearing skinny jeans with their blazers. And then there was another man. He was a little older than the early-thirty-somethings around him, and probably a little wiser, too.
With black hair, hard eyes, and a disciplined body, this man could make a heavenly angel do a double take—and daydream about earthly delights. Usually, he wore a suit. But unlike the others in the group, on this day he’d dressed more for functionality than fashion. And I doubted his T-shirt, cargo pants, or well-kept boots bore any fancy labels. Neither would the denim jacket that camouflaged the handgun holstered at his hip.
All in all, he looked like trouble, even in the middle of the museum.
But that was a vast improvement over the last time I’d seen him.
That last time had been on the doorstep of his modest condo in Annandale. I’d arrived bearing a quart of chicken noodle soup and a bottle of his favorite scotch. But I hadn’t accepted his invitation to stay, or even stepped inside. He hadn’t been in shape to host company, though he’d been reticent to admit it. He’d leaned heavily on a cane, limping on a leg swollen with the aftereffects of snakebite, and in a fair amount of pain, no matter how much he’d tried to hide it—and those dead giveaways had been all my fault.
Today, he was more himself than ever. But there was an unusual edge to him. A tension. And, as if his proximity to all those little tykes made him nervous, he kept his arms tightly folded across his chest. But he never shifted his attention from the children.
I crossed the echoing floor to join him.
“Times must be tough at the Drug Enforcement Administration,” I said, “since you’ve taken up babysitting on a Tuesday morning.”
Special Agent Marc Sandoval’s gaze left the kids—but only for a moment. Still, that moment was long enough for him to take in my high ponytail, navy-blue leather blazer, charcoal trousers, and handmade kitten heels that were just pointy enough to mean business without slowing me down anytime I had to hit the bricks.
Lastly, Marc’s hot, black eyes locked onto my gray ones. But they didn’t linger long. His focus snapped back to the children.
“I wasn’t sure you’d show,” he said, “since you stopped returning my calls two weeks ago.”
“That’s not exactly accurate,” I reminded him. “And I think you know it.”
Marc, in fact, had stopped calling me nine days before. Consequently, there hadn’t been any phone calls to return. But I didn’t want him to know I’d been keeping count.
I’d met Marc last October when I’d made the mistake of stepping foot in one of his cases. Of course, that hadn’t been my intention at the time. As a private-eye-turned-security-specialist with a long list of high-risk, high-profile clients, I’d been more intent on keeping a crooked official with the Federal Drug Administration out of the pockets of a pharmaceutical company’s honest CEO. But our paths had crossed again when I’d taken on a case to help the soldier who was near and dear to my heart. And before my work was done, Marc had made it very clear he wanted to spend more time with me—in his bed or mine.
But I wasn’t single. At least, I hadn’t been then. Now I wasn’t sure what I was.
Marc said, “What’re you doing this week, babe?”
I hesitated, unsure of whether he was asking about my commitments in a professional capacity—or a personal one.
I decided to play it safe.
“I’ve got a few entries on my calendar.” I didn’t tell him I was in the middle of vetting nannies for that Broadway star who wrote that hit musical. Or that a particular embassy had hired me for an anti-electronic-surveillance sweep of three properties they planned to buy in Maryland. “But I just wrapped up a case this morning.”
“Sounds like you’re keeping busy.”
“Busy pays the bills,” I replied.
Busy also kept me from dwelling on recent events—and my own private shortcomings.
I said, “I’ve also got a professional quarterback who wants two bodyguards with him at all times.”
I didn’t mention that the team’s insurance company just doubled the multimillion-dollar policy on the player’s throwing arm—and that he suspected somebody wanted a payout to shore up the owner’s failing financial situation.
“A few of my guys are handling that, though.”
“Ah, the associates at Sinclair and Associates. I guess the boss lady can’t be expected to fit everything into her workday.”
That was true of anybody.
But I didn’t like the way Marc made it sound.
“Well, this boss lady is also taking the train to New York tomorrow.” I had a meeting with some advertising executives who weren’t fans of the way their best ideas keep migrating from their drawing boards to the ads the competition created. But then I drilled down to what I really wanted to say. “What’s with the curiosity about my schedule?”
Marc answered my question with a question of his own.
“What would you make of a mother who dropped off her son, but didn’t return to pick him up?”
“That depends,” I replied carefully. “Did someone T-bone her car at the intersection across from the elementary school? Or did she hop on a plane for a wild weekend in Vegas?”
“I don’t know.”
Marc shoved his quick hands into his jacket pockets. One kid, I noticed, seemed to draw his attention more often than the rest. He was a little boy with black hair, the darkest of blue jeans, and bright orange sneakers. Like a lot of the other children, he’d given up on sitting crossed-legged and paying attention to the docent’s herky-jerky puppet. But instead of antagonizing the little girl next to him or joining in the wrestling match two other boys had started, he’d extended his feet in front of him, leaned back on palms he’d planted on the floor, and tapped the toes of his tennis shoes together in time to the docent’s singsong performance.
I said, “You could call local PD, ask them to look in on this woman.”
Calling in the cops was a standard step in a supposed missing persons case. And surely with Marc’s credentials with the DEA, local law enforcement anywhere would be more than willing to check into a missing mother’s whereabouts at his request. The police would go to her home, look for signs she was still around—or that she’d hit the road.
But Marc said, “I don’t want to do that, yet.”
“If I do the heavy lifting,” he said, “I’ll have to act on what I learn.”
“In other words, even if she’s been up to no good, you don’t want to arrest her when you find her.”
Marc shrugged his beefy shoulders.
“Marc,” I said, cutting to the chase. “What’s going on here?”
“I need to hire you, Jamie. I need you to find this woman for me. And I need you to go with me to Colorado to do it.”
I shook my head. “I can’t carry in Colorado.”
And this was true. Though I specialized in security arrangements, I was a private investigator, first and foremost. As such, I was licensed to carry a concealed weapon in nine states and the District of Columbia. Colorado wasn’t one of the nine. But I’d never put much faith in firearms, anyway. Besides, an inability to pack one wasn’t the real reason for my reluctance to go haring off to the Rocky Mountain State with Special Agent Sandoval.
Then Marc surprised me by saying, “That’s her boy over there.”
I followed his line of sight to the dark-haired tyke, the adorable child in the bright orange sneakers.
Marc said, “I can’t tell him his mother’s not coming back.”
“You don’t have to. He’s not your responsibility.”
But at that moment, the docents released the fidgeting children. Each kid bounded from the floor to run for Mom or Dad. The dark-haired boy made a beeline for us, tripping along in his snazzy orange shoes. He threw himself at Marc, wrapped his arms around Marc’s thigh, and held on to the DEA agent in a fierce hug. Smiling, the boy beamed up at him with dimples flashing, and returning the grin, Marc smoothed a hand over the boy’s crown.
“Jamie,” Marc said to me, “I want you to meet my son.”
Nichole Christoff is the award-winning author of the Jamie Sinclair thrillers: The Kill List, The Kill Shot, The Kill Box, The Kill Sign, The Kill Wire, and The Kill Chain. A writer, broadcaster, and military spouse who has worked on the air and behind the scenes for radio, television news, and the public relations industry, Christoff owes her taste in fiction to Raymond Chandler, James Thurber, and Jane Austen. She belongs to the Private Eye Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.