Reckoning (Ashes #2)

Genre: Suspense

What it's about

All Sean Kincaid wanted was to use his Special Operative skills to bring a domestic terrorist to justice. But he left a trail of bodies in his wake: foes, colleagues - and an innocent woman. Now he's pursued by enemies, while desperately searching for a way to make amends.

Deirdre Monahan was expecting a happy afternoon with her cousin Anna. But she found a corpse abandoned like trash - and no one who could tell her why. Now Deirdre's looking for answers, and bent on giving whoever killed Anna the gift of knowing Deirdre's pain.

In Ashes, Sean sacrificed everything. In this thrilling sequel, there will be ... a Reckoning.

Reckoning is now available in print and in ebook for Kindle and other readers.

Read an excerpt from Reckoning

Deirdre Monahan tossed her purse and a bag full of dirty laundry onto the passenger seat of her truck, then sat down in the driver's seat. She'd had the truck since high school and it still ran well. The trick was getting it to run. You had to push the clutch in just so, give it precisely this much gas, and then — success.
"Good girl." Deirdre patted the dashboard. She was fond of the truck, faulty starter and all, and even more fond of it since the divorce had gone through. Her mother couldn't understand why she had let Randy have the Mustang; couldn't understand why Deirdre took as little of the things she and Randy had bought together as she could live without.
It was simple, really. She wanted to start over, on her own. Once her anger at Randy for putting them into a debt sinkhole and losing his job and cheating on her with that all-tits-and-no-brains floozy had subsided to a dull roar, once she was faced with legal papers and signatures to end the marriage, she'd found herself wondering what to do with her life. She'd said as much to her cousin Anna, who put things in perspective.
"You know what they say, Dee," Anna had said. "Everything happens for a reason. And when life closes a door, it opens a window as well. Did I miss any of the other clichés?"
"Every cloud has a silver lining."
"That too. Take your pick."
Deirdre liked the one about the door and the window best. So she had slammed the door (hoping to catch Randy's fingers in the jamb), and jumped out the window. She jumped out by herself, and that was why she'd kept the truck — she wanted to do this on her own, and she'd never been on her own before. After high school she'd lived with her folks, then with Randy, and now she was twenty-eight and had never had a life she could call hers alone.
So far it was working out all right. The job wasn't the best — she was a clerk at the new Wal-Mart over in Lakeside, but it paid the bills until she could find something she liked better. Likewise the apartment. It was threadbare and she was still living out of boxes, but she liked the freedom of eating whatever she wanted, cleaning up the house when or if she felt like it, and not having to share the TV remote with anyone.
Anna had offered her a room at their house. Deirdre hadn't known how to refuse without hurting Anna's feelings; Richard had come to her rescue. He'd seen her distress and said, "You need to sort things out and stand on your own feet for a while, don't you?"
Relieved, she'd replied that was true. They understood, but told her she was welcome at any time to stop by for a hot dinner, or use their washer and dryer, or go for a ride on one of the horses. It all sounded wonderful to Deirdre.
She had last talked to Anna on Sunday, nearly a week ago. Anna was glad to hear she was settling in. "Now that life's not too crazy you'll need to come by for dinner more often. Should we make it a standing date for Sunday?" Anna asked.
"That's not too much trouble, is it?"
"Of course not. Richard's always bringing his friends over, but they're all men. It'll be nice to have some female company for a change. Which reminds me, Dee. There's one of Richard's friends I think you should meet."
"I don't know if I'm up for meeting anyone new just yet."
"Just see if there's any sparks."
In spite of herself she was intrigued. Deirdre always felt weird going to restaurants or the movies by herself, and a date would be welcome. "Wait, it's not that Steve guy you told me about? He sounded like kind of a yo-yo."
"Have a little faith in me? His name's Sam, he's a very nice guy. A real gentleman."
"What's he look like?"
"Well, he's older than you, I'm not sure how much. Not too tall, not too short. Losing his hair."
"Sounds dreamy."
Anna never talked trash about people, and she didn't now, but she did say, "Handsome is as handsome does, Dee." Meaning that good-looking as Randy had been, as a husband he hadn't amounted to much.
"Not that I'm matchmaking or anything, but you need a steady guy. And he needs a nice girlfriend, not some slutbunny."
Deirdre laughed. "Nan! Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?"
Richard's voice boomed in the background. "Who's a slutbunny? Where can I meet her?"
"Oh stop!" giggled Anna. "Just think about it, that's all I'm asking. You'll see him at Thanksgiving, I'm sure, if not sooner. See how you feel about it then. You will be here for Thanksgiving?"
"Wouldn't miss it for anything."
"Good." Anna's voice dropped a bit. She sounded both shy and happy. "I may have some good news for you then."
Deirdre's heart had done a flip at these words. Anna wouldn't say what the news was, but Deirdre could make a good guess. Anna was expecting. Deirdre knew that Anna had wanted a child badly ever since she'd married Richard, but they'd had no luck yet. There had been two miscarriages that Deirdre knew of — she suspected there had been at least one more, judging by how unusually moody and silent Anna had been two Christmases ago. Deirdre was happier than ever that she'd moved close to Anna and Richard. If Anna was indeed pregnant, she'd need to get her rest, and what better way than for Deirdre to come by every Sunday to help with the housecleaning and errands, and whip up a batch of her famous Eggs McMonahan.
Now, thinking about all this, Deirdre put her truck into gear and began driving to Anna's house. It was a gloomy day, threatening to rain, but she didn't mind. It would be warm and cozy at Anna's house. It always was.

She opened the gate that led to Richard and Anna's Christmas tree farm, pausing to take a deep breath of the pine-scented air. Christmas was only a few months away; Deirdre had never been to the farm at the holidays. Anna said it was chaotic but fun, and another set of hands were always welcome. If cutting trees and tying them onto car roofs didn't suit her, there was always ringing up orders or running the snack stand.
After closing the gate behind her, she drove down the smooth dirt road to the house. Not for the first time, she felt an unwelcome twinge of envy. There was no resentment in it, no ill will. She just wondered why she couldn't have a life like Anna's — the farm, the pretty house, the husband who was not just handsome and charming but who clearly loved Anna more than anything else.
She was in luck. Richard's truck and Anna's station wagon were both in the driveway. She hated surprising them like this, but every time she'd called this week she'd gotten the answering machine. They hadn’t called her cell; they must have been busy. She grabbed her purse and walked up to the front door.
The door had an intercom; a good safety precaution, Richard had told her, considering how many visitors they got with the tree farm. She pressed the intercom button and got no answer. She pressed again; although she knew her voice wouldn't carry, she called out anyway. "Anna? Richard? It's Deirdre."
No answer.
Deirdre was positive Anna had said they'd be home Sunday. Anna had even told her Richard might be able to look at the truck and see if he could fix the starter. Deirdre stepped off the porch and began to walk down the driveway, toward the back of the house. As she passed the stables a shrill whinny made her jump. Both horses were looking out of the stable windows at her. The palomino looked tired, almost ill, and the bay was tossing his head in agitation. Deirdre walked over to the stables, murmuring soothing noises to the horses. "Hey boys, hey pretty ponies," she sang as she got close to the horses. The bay whinnied again, and Deirdre looked inside the stables. She was shocked to see the feed bins empty, and the stable floor in need of a good cleaning. Still crooning to the horses, she found a basket of carrots outside the stables and put a half dozen in the feed bins; they were devoured in no time, and the horses looked at her expectantly. "Wait, guys, let me find Anna."
She headed back to the driveway, not quite running. Her spine felt crawly and she wiped her sweaty palms on her jeans. She stood indecisive in the driveway for a moment, then went to the back of the house, to the kitchen door. She banged on the door, called out Anna's name, and when there was no answer, tried the door. It was unlocked. Deirdre opened the door and stepped inside.
The smell hit her with the force of a slap. She stepped back, bumped into the door, and caught hold of the doorknob to steady herself. Deirdre pinched her nostrils shut and breathed through her mouth, but that didn't banish the smell — it was just lying in wait, pressing against her skin, waiting for her to relax her vigilance and breathe through her nose again. "Anna?" she called. Her voice seemed unnaturally loud. For the house was not just quiet. It was silent.
She blinked, her eyes adjusting to the dim light of the kitchen. After a moment she found the source of the smell: a whole chicken, taken out to thaw and left forgotten on the counter.
Her relief was short-lived. What was a rotten chicken doing left out in Anna's immaculate kitchen? Why were the horses unfed and their stables dirty? Where the hell were Anna and Richard?
Deirdre walked quickly out of the kitchen, into the hallway. The silence had a sound now, ringing in her ears. "Anna? Richard? Are you here? Please say something."
She went into the living room and stopped, staring. As she tried to make sense of what she was seeing, she forgot to plug her nose and the smell hit her harder than ever. She gagged and bit down on her arm to kill a scream. Plugging her nostrils, she looked around the room.
There wasn't much wrong with it at first glance. It was only if you knew Anna and what a good housekeeper she was that you'd know something had happened. Anna wouldn't leave dirty scuff marks on the floor, wouldn't leave the hearth rug bunched up and the fireplace pokers in a heap.
Then there was the afghan on the sofa, covering something. Covering someone.
Yes, someone, because there was a person-size shape under it. The afghan mercifully hid whatever lay under it, save for a pair of pink sneakers protruding from one end.
Deirdre swallowed hard, trying not to recall that she'd seen those sneakers on Anna's feet two weeks ago. She felt herself walking over to the sofa, saw her hand reaching out to that afghan. She didn't know why at first, and then understood. Because once she pulled it back and saw that it wasn't Anna after all, then the world would be OK again. There'd be an explanation somehow. Because it wasn't Anna here, it couldn't be. She just had to see for herself.
"Please," whispered Deirdre, and pulled back the afghan.

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