Midnight Dance

A Seattle Sound Series Romantic Suspense Spin-off

All secrets come with a price in this page-turning romantic suspense by USA Today Bestselling Author, Alexa Padgett.

Someone will stop at nothing to silence her…

Ethical hacker Tawny Reed chose the FBI over a possible criminal record….and gave up any semblance of a life to meet her handler’s stringent demands. But getting stabbed in the line of duty wasn’t part of the plan: she deals in code and algorithms, not the blood and violence that cost her father his life.

Biology professor Colt Rippey rushes to save an injured woman on the side of the road. That white-knight act tumbles him into Tawny’s world of power built on lies–and people’s lives. When Tawny reveals she has nowhere to go, Colt suggests they hide in his cabin deep on the Olympic Peninsula. There, he hopes to save Tawny and even give his life some meaning.

Danger stalks Tawny and Colt, making it difficult to know who they can trust. The sanctuary Tawny finds in Colt’s arms and bed is temporary. Isolated in a remote cabin, hunted by figures who want to silence her, Tawny must outpace and outmaneuver the men who destroyed her life years before. The hunt is on…will Tawny’s timebomb explode while Colt risks his life and future to keep Tawny safe?

**Disclaimer: The following material is copyrighted and subject to change.**

Chapter 3

Tawny

Sunday

The man who I’d let into my home wanted to kill me.

The moment he pulled the knife from behind his back, I couldn’t take my gaze off the glinting sharp edge—not even as I inched along the wall. 

I needed to buy some space.

I needed to buy some time.

I needed the possibility of a choice.

Nothing presented itself.

I glanced at the door, and Howie smirked. No way I’d make it, and we both knew it. Not only was he closer, but he also had longer legs, longer arms.

“I could have given you everything, Tawn,” he drawled. “I would have given you the world. Hell, if you wanted, I would have married you.”

“You came to me with a job.” I shuddered. “We weren’t dating.”

Howie shrugged. “I dumped my girlfriend for you. I came here to tell you that.” His voice turned wheedling. “I wanted to give us a shot. With your skills and my connections, we could own the world. Literally own it. Kara couldn’t give me that.” His voice dropped, becoming silkier. “But you could. You still can. Just fix that little problem and we’ll pretend it never happened.”

My mouth dried out, and I shuddered as he stepped closer to where I was pressed against the wall of my cabin. The man was clearly deranged.

When Howie approached me about a potential job, Agent Russo seemed pleased, telling me I could help lure him in, get more information. He’d told me he’d gotten my name from a colleague, which wasn’t unusual. I kept a small stable of clients outside the FBI work to keep up appearances and give me better cover, but I hadn’t liked how he seemed to know more about me than I knew about him. That’s probably why I’d started looking into his email history as opposed to the firewall. 

Well, that and Agent Russo wanted to know everything about Howie. Again, not unusual, but something about this case caused me to feel…cold. I’d been thrilled to send my initial findings to Agent Russo, hoping that would mean my interaction with Howie would be over.

Until he’d shown up a few moments before. And, stupidly, I’d let him into my cabin. I’d been so stupid.

I couldn’t take back the messages I’d just attempted to send to Russo even if I wanted to. Hopefully they are already on a secure FBI server, but I didn’t get a chance to see if the download was complete. I wanted Howie to pay for his crimes. And for scaring me, and for now wanting me dead.

Like I could ever trust him Not that I ever had, but he’d proven when he’d drawn the blade that there was no way he’d keep his promise to me—the promise that I’d be safe, and we’d be together. No way in hell.

My hand fumbled against the window ledge and my knees weakened. My head swam for a long moment as I nearly sobbed with relief as my finger closed around the latch. It wasn’t a door, but if I could give myself a few precious seconds, maybe I could climb out the window. Better make it dive out. 

I kept my mouth shut, which was a massive undertaking for me. Not that I was normally talkative—hello, computer geek, here—but I was also curious. Clearly, that saying about curiosity and the cat was true in my current predicament.

I wanted to ask him why he’d cheated the company out of millions of dollars. He’d been cheating for at least six months from what I’d gathered during my weekend of investigating. Probably longer. 

Howie was known to be one of Seattle’s biggest financial players. No one knew how he’d gotten his money. Except me. I knew how he’d gotten some of it, and now—soon—someone at the FBI did or would…when they read the messages I’d sent to their server.

But that wouldn’t help me now. Not with the knife in my face and my cabin located hours from the city and any help that could arrive. 

I never should have let Agent Russo talk me into working this case in the first place. Perfectly safe, she’d said.

Well, my ass was about to be sliced up, so I disagreed strongly with Agent Russo’s assessment. That damn curiosity again… Agent Russo had raised questions I couldn’t ignore that led me to uncover that IP address. 

Fine. Howie led me to the IP address because, unlike me, Howie wasn’t good with technology. I’d used his email account to deposit the door I needed into his company. And all that information was available on the laptop sitting on the end table, mere feet from me. Feet that would put me closer to Howie…and his sharp, scary knife.

Something hit the roof—probably a pinecone—and Howie turned slightly, no doubt to make sure we were still alone—like anyone was coming to save me. Taking advantage of his momentary distraction, I lunged forward and grabbed my laptop. Howie turned back toward me and I swung the computer at his head. 

I resisted the urge to check on him and held my computer tightly. It was my evidence—well, my back-up evidence, in case my message didn’t go through.

I bolted back to the window, threw it open, and began to wriggle out. The need to turn from my hips to my stomach to fit through the narrow space probably saved my life. I shifted just as a knife blade shredded my jeans and tore across the front of my thigh before clattering to the floor. I screamed in agony.

He’d stabbed me. That cheating, lying asshole stabbed me. Evidently, I hadn’t hit him hard enough. I bit my tongue until I tasted blood, unwilling to cry out again or faint from the pain in my thigh.

I pulled my good knee forward and drove my heel back into his chest with as much force as I could manage. 

My kick landed on his belly. Howie grunted and stumbled, falling hard against a bookshelf.

I watched as he struck his head against one of the shelves, creating a meaty, head-ache-inducing thunk. Praying this time he wouldn’t get back up, I managed to toss out the laptop, then crawl out the window, tumbling to the porch surface in an untidy heap. I gritted my teeth as I staggered to my feet, holding back another sob as pain tore through my leg. The front of my jeans were destroyed, but maybe the wound was superficial?

No such luck.

The slash was a couple of inches above my knee. I couldn’t see bone, which was a good sign. The leg could also bear my weight, even though the cut burned and bled with each jostle. 

I paused for a moment, allowing some of the dizziness from the shock to pass. My stomach felt like a lead cannonball tied to the world’s largest helium balloon. The disconcerting trick to my middle caused more lightheadedness to ensue.

I opened the laptop case, cringing at the creaking noise and unsurprised to find the screen cracked—and blue. Shit. That wasn’t good. Not at all. Still, if I were lucky, the hard drive would be intact, and I could remove it from this shell and install it in another. 

I closed the case and clutched the machine to me, a talisman of when life was normal and good. I hoped those files went through to the server, but if my hotspot wasn’t able to connect and transfer the data before Howie had shown up at my door, then… The answer to that was unclear until I could check. 

And here and now wasn’t the place or time. Not with Howie planning to cut me to shreds. I shuddered, stomach convulsing at the idea of more of my blood leaving my body. 

Think.

I didn’t have the keys to my vehicle. And going back in to get them seemed foolhardy. Howie might awaken at any moment. That left walking, either on the path, which I immediately nixed because, again, if Howie woke, he’d easily find me there, or the nearby woods. 

Blood saturated my jeans below the cut. 

Okay, if my jeans absorbed the blood, then I wouldn’t leave an obvious trail. Since I had only my long-sleeved T-shirt on to protect me from the cold December night when it fell in a few hours, I didn’t want to tear it up for a bandage unless I had to. 

Woods it was, then.

I straightened my spine as I limped into the trees. I’d figure a way out of this conundrum. It was a logic problem, something I excelled at.

At least I used to. 

I stumbled through the woods, unwilling to stop, worried I’d fall into shock, even as my legs weighed me to the ground and my shivering increased. My eyes slid closed and I forced them open, just as I forced myself to move forward. I took another step, and another, heedless of the tears streaming down my cheeks. 

I needed a drink of water. I needed a blanket. I needed medical attention.

After stumbling my way through the underbrush, for what seemed like forever, I hit the narrow strip of Highway 101 that would eventually lead out to Lake Quinault. Unfortunately, that just led me deeper into the Olympic Peninsula, and more exposed to Howie’s violence when he found me. If he found me. I shuddered and gagged as my mind replayed the crack of his head against the bookshelf.

Safety. I needed to be safe. I stood for a moment before turning south. Seattle. The FBI. That was my best chance. I began to walk close to the road, but not too close. I needed to be able to dart back into the woods at the first sound of a vehicle.

I stumbled again. So tired. My limbs and lids must weigh thousands of pounds.

I’d never been hurt before—violence was new to me, and I really, really didn’t like participating in it.

“I’m a statistic,” I muttered. “A domestic violence number.”

My toes caught under a root and I tripped, sprawling. I cried out as my wounded leg jarred against the ground. I managed to turn so I landed on my shoulder, protecting my laptop from the brunt of the fall. I couldn’t lose the work there. It was my ticket out of this mess—my best chance to finally leave this work and head out to Wyoming.

I’d made promises to my mom, and I really wanted to keep them. But I had to complete this project to be in a position to follow through. 

My mother lived in Laramie now and needed help, sandwiched as she was between her ill parents and the kids she’d started fostering a few years ago. 

We hadn’t spoken in years, but she had reached out to me a while back and now she wanted my help. And I wanted to give it, to prove to her I was more than the mistakes of my past. But that meant getting up and walking. 

Except I couldn’t manage to rise again. I was tired and cold and scared.

This wasn’t what I’d signed up for. 

I snorted. I didn’t get to decide what I’d do for the Bureau. That was what I’d signed up for: to do whatever they needed. 

I had less than three months left on my contract. If I could survive this case.

But Howie wasn’t going to let me go—not without trying to silence me again. Fear and shock overwhelmed me, and my eyes slid closed. 

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