Out of Luck
Maximum Exposure Book 3
by Kendall Talbot
Genre: Romantic Suspense, Adventure
For twenty years, they moved from town to town every few months. They paid in cash. They kept only what they could carry. But 26-year-old Charlene Bailey and her father were a family, complete and happy. Until a woman stabbed him to death in a New Orleans café, right in front of Charlene’s eyes, screaming in a language she didn’t understand. Now the police are claiming that her whole life is a lie. To find out who she is, she’ll have to find out what they were running from. And to discover that, she’ll have to find someone she can trust.
As a charter boat captain out of Key West, Marshall Crow has seen his share of reckless tourists. But the fierce young woman asking for passage to Cuba isn’t one of them. He never thought he’d put the skills he learned in the Navy to work smuggling a stranger, but he’s drawn to her the same way she’s drawn to the truth. And through the dark waters of the Florida straits and the narrow streets of Havana, the danger that awaits them is far too vicious to face alone.
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Sorrow coiled in Charlene’s heart as she inched toward her father’s body on the metal slab. The pungent air crackled with the stillness about her, and her bones sagged with an emptiness deep in her soul. Her father didn’t look peaceful. She should’ve expected that, given the way he’d died. The stubble in his beard was longer than usual, and she was surprised at how many gray whiskers he had. Lips that had always been quick to smile were tinged the color of acid-washed denim.
His almond-colored eyes were closed, destined to remain that way forever.
With trembling hands, she curled her fingers beneath the seam of the white sheet concealing his body and eased it down from his neck. Fighting the quiver in her chin, she stared at the jagged knife wound in
his chest. It was surprisingly small considering the amount of blood that’d gushed from it.
Charlene squeezed her eyes shut, trying to force the brutal attack from her mind. But it was there to stay. Every precise second was permanently etched into her memory.
The woman who’d stabbed him was a stunning brunette with olive skin and fierce brown eyes. She’d looked petrified. Clearly her father and the woman had known each other, but Charlene had never seen her before. They’d argued in Spanish. Charlene didn’t speak any other languages, and
she’d had no idea her father did either.
When the woman had grabbed her father’s steak knife, Charlene had seen the look in his eyes. It wasn’t fear. It was resignation. Like he’d always expected that moment to one day come.
Shaking the recollections free, she opened her eyes and touched his forearm, just as she’d done a thousand times over, except this time she had to resist recoiling at the cold beneath his flesh. As a single tear trickled down her cheek, she wondered if their past had finally caught up to them.
Twenty-two years it’d taken.
Twenty-two years since her father had whisked her away in the middle of the night.
Twenty-two years since she’d last seen her mother.
They’d moved to twice as many cities in that time. Just the two of them.
Charlene inhaled the tangy disinfectant and the emptiness around her. “What am I going to do?” Even her voice sounded hollow, lacking in emotion.
Life as drifters had meant she had no friends.
Her time with her mother was nothing but a whispered dream. Her father never did tell her what happened when she was six years old. And after a while, she’d stopped asking. In fact, she’d often wondered if it was just a silly childhood nightmare.
Now she was all alone.
The enormity of it had hit her yesterday when the police started asking questions.
Her father had no identification. No driver’s license. No credit cards. Not even a Social Security card. Just a small amount of cash and the key to their rented apartment. It hadn’t surprised her. The police, however,
had implied that it was abnormal. Deceitful even. Charlene had explained away all their questions, yet Detective Chapel had looked at her like she was hiding something.
She’d learned to live with inquisitive gazes; she’d been the new student at twenty or so schools. Being the stranger in a crowd was completely normal.
The door cracked open, and the sound ricocheted about the room like a bullet. She jolted at the interruption and turned. Detective Chapel had a look of sorrow that for some reason seemed forced…too practiced. She flicked the tears from her cheeks and stepped back from her father’s lifeless form.
“Ms. Bailey, are you okay?”
Charlene swallowed the lump burning in her throat and shook her head. Okay? His question was ludicrous. Nothing will ever be okay again. Ever. She turned back to her father’s body and through her murky tears scanned his face. Finally, she nodded. “Yes.”
When she turned to look into Chapel’s eyes, she had a strange feeling he didn’t believe her account of what happened. She blinked and tried but failed to cast the unfounded feeling aside. “What happens now?”
“If you’re up to it, we’d like to ask you a few more questions.”
She glanced at her father one last time, hardly able to believe what she was seeing. He’d always been full of life…the first to try out a dish he couldn’t pronounce at a restaurant or jump off the bus to explore a new
vista. He taught her to appreciate the sunrise and the glow of the moon over the ocean. His days were long and his nights short in his attempts to squeeze the life out of every second.
All that had been stolen with the slice of a blade.
She bit her lip in an attempt to halt her quivering chin, and before she succumbed to the burgeoning tears again, she allowed Chapel to lead her from the morgue.
Out of Mind
Maximum Exposure Book 2
A love frozen in time . . .
Holly knew the romantic helicopter ride up to the remote peak of Whisky Mountain was a bad idea. But she never expected it to snatch her fiancé from her—or destroy her life. A few fiery seconds turn a postcard-perfect morning in the Canadian Rockies into a snowy hell, thirteen thousand feet above sea level. And in the midst of grief and agony, Holly catches sight of a scene in the ice that will haunt her until she can return and discover the truth.
Oliver Nelson could see the stranger had a mystery inside her. The scars on her face, the pain in her eyes, the insistence that he teach her completely alone—no one needs to learn rock climbing, or so he thought. But the more he gets to know her, the more he admires her drive, her ingenuity, and that little edge of recklessness. If she can trust him with her story, he’s ready to follow her wherever her heart takes her.
But nature’s deadly beauty isn’t the only danger waiting for them on Whisky Mountain. To survive, Oliver and Holly will have to move fast—and think faster . . .
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From the moment Holly climbed into the helicopter, a sense of foreboding plagued every thought. Three times in her life she’d had a premonition about death. Each time it’d come true. But she wouldn’t say anything. Not when Milton, her new fiancé, had paid so much money for this exclusive trip. And especially not when he’d looked like an excited teenager when he’d first spied the chopper at the ski resort. Holly forced her brain to focus on the mountain scenery around her, rather than the tendrils of dread inching up her spine.
This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was supposed to be fun. But the buffering wind and shuddering windows made it so far from fun she could barely breathe. According to the pilot, a private picnic on the west
summit of one of Canada’s highest peaks had never been done before. But Milton had charmed the man with both his expert persuasion skills and his generosity with money. So much so that the pilot simply couldn’t refuse.
Twelve thousand dollars had been his tipping point. For that, not only did they get a private helicopter, but the pilot also provided expensive champagne, a gourmet feast, and a folding table and three chairs, ready
to be set up wherever they wanted.
Milton was capable of convincing anyone to do anything. Her being on Whiskey Mountain was a testament to that. She never did anything that even hinted at danger.
Death had a way of following her. Her brother died as a three-week-old baby. Her father went to work one day and never came home. Her best friend died in a freak accident that’d perplexed all the authorities. Even her one and only pet didn’t make it past puppy stage. And Holly was only twenty-four years old. Based on that average, one death every five or so years, she was due again. She smacked the disturbing statistic away and wiped her sweating palms on her ski pants.
Shielding her eyes from the sun, she looked up at the mountain peak. The snowcapped granite wall jutted skyward like an enormous shark fin. It was an interesting color, like the rocks were gilded in copper. She
wondered if that’s why it’d been named Whiskey Mountain. With each foot they rose, it appeared to grow wider and higher, and the very tip glistened like a diamond.
The helicopter shot over the ski resort’s highest cable car station, leaving behind the last signs of civilization. The lump of dread, deep in the pit of her stomach, hit a whole new level. The white terrain stretched as far as she could see. Even the trees had given up trying to live here.
When Holly had suggested to Milton that they take a vacation, she’d envisaged lying in hammocks on a deserted beach, sipping fancy drinks out of coconuts. Not this. Not high in the mountains where snow and ice
blanketed every surface. Cold weather seeped into her bones. Her mother said it was because she didn’t eat enough. Her fiancé said it was because she didn’t eat meat. Ever since their first date, two years ago, Milton had been trying to coax her off her strict vegetarian diet.
“Having fun?” Milton beamed at her. His eyes were hidden behind mirrored glasses, but she could picture the dazzle of excitement in his brown irises that she’d come to love.
Swallowing a bitter taste in her mouth, she decided to dodge his question. “It’s magnificent.” The last thing she’d do was voice her fear, not when he looked to be enjoying it so much. And especially not in front of Milton’s son, who’d commandeered the front seat next to the pilot. Kane had visited more countries in his seventeen years than Holly had dreamed of.
He hated Holly…and had made it his mission to tell her so at every opportunity. He blamed her for breaking up his parents’ marriage. She hadn’t. Their marriage was fractured long before Milton strolled into the coffee shop where she worked.
Holly had suggested to Milton that a vacation would be the perfect opportunity for Kane to get to know her better. She was desperate to prove to Milton’s son that she was worthy of his father’s love. At least,
that’d been her plan.
Out of Reach
Maximum Exposure Book 1
In a place where a city can be lost hundreds of years . . . they can still find each other.
Lily saw the temple of Agulinta on television: a vast stone structure swallowed by the Yucatan jungle, rediscovered only now after hundreds of years. So why did the papers she found after her father’s death show the same mysterious carvings that puzzled archaeologists at Agulinta? Her search for answers pulls her to Mexico’s southern border, where the journey to the lost temple will take her through jungle and mountain, over waters home to crocodiles and drug runners, and into uncomfortably close quarters with a man whose need to wander has become a way of life . . .
Australian Carter Logan’s work as a nature photographer has given him the excuse he needs to roam wherever his restless feet take him. But in all the time he’s traveled, he’s never been drawn to anyone the way he is to this determined, cagey young American. Lily’s perseverance through dirt, sweat, and danger to the heart of the ancient temple fires through him. But when the two of them are left alone and stranded in a vicious wilderness, their connection might prove the difference between life and death . . . if the secrets of the past don’t come between them first.
Lily Bennett reached into the satchel at her side and placed her hand on the leather-bound journal that had triggered her traveling more than three thousand miles out of her comfort zone.
She’d already memorized everything inside its weathered pages.
Especially her late father’s sketch of the unusual temple she’d been shocked to see on CNN six weeks ago. According to the news report, the newly discovered, three-thousand-year-old Agulinta Temple had been hidden for centuries—literally consumed by the Mexican jungle.
Yet, somehow her father knew it existed.
The temptation to open the journal again was powerful . . . too powerful.
She pulled it from her satchel and flicked over the yellowed pages, stopping on his drawing of a hollowed-out circular statue, like a giant donut. Around the face of the structure, pictographs appeared to tell a story. CNN had shown footage of a statue at Agulinta Temple exactly like this. Exactly.
A branch with enormous elephant-ear-sized leaves swiped the side of the taxi, brushing the elbow she’d leaned out the door. It was hard to know what was worse—the hot air seeping through the car vents or the humid air blowing in through the window. Shifting on the cracked vinyl seat, she tugged her cotton dress over her knees, hoping for a slight breeze up her skirt, but it was pointless.
She cleared her throat. “How much farther?”
The taxi driver looked at her in the mirror and smiled, showing off his chipped front tooth. “Not long.”
That’s what he’d said an hour ago.
Her mind drifted back to the horror written on her mother’s face when they’d opened the beat-up old suitcase they’d discovered in her father’s shed after he’d passed away. Lily thought she’d known her father well, until that moment.
Alongside the leather-bound journal, they’d also found a collection of black-and-white photos. The implications behind the pictures further shattered her mother’s already broken heart. His sudden death meant their future was forever changed; however, the mysterious items they’d found in that case, changed their past too.
For nearly a year, she’d watched her mother’s slide into a grieving darkness, dragging Lily and her brothers along with her. Lily had feared the secrets her father had taken to his grave were destined to remain unsolved.
Until CNN revealed Agulinta Temple to the world.
From the moment she’d seen that news report and heard the archaeologist’s declaration that the unusual shape of the ancient statue was one of a kind, she’d made it her mission to come down to Mexico and see Agulinta for herself. She needed answers. As did her mother. It’d been a whirlwind couple of weeks, and she still couldn’t believe she was here.
Lily took a tissue from her satchel and dabbed it across her neck and chest before using it to soak up the sweat under her armpits. The driver snuck a glance at her, but when she met his gaze, he quickly looked away. She was used to that. With six older brothers, and overprotective parents, she’d felt the eyes of someone watching her whole life. It was like living in a snow globe, and when things tipped upside-down, they’d all be watching to see how she’d handle it.
That wasn’t how she’d ended up here, though. Traveling to the middle of the Mexican jungle had been her decision. She’d listened to everyone’s objections, fielding calls from every member of her family and her girlfriends.
Her boss had put his foot down, proclaiming the trip too dangerous for a woman like her, which made her even more determined. Taking her new position with More to Explore was a stepping-stone for her career. It had also relocated her from Montana, where she’d grown up under the wings of her abundant family, and into her own dinky little apartment in Seattle.
Defying them all, she’d taken unpaid leave to make this journey from Seattle to the jungles of Mexico. Once she’d proved her decision was final, her boss, being the dirtbag he was, had added a caveat: If she did write a story, and if it was any good, the magazine would publish it.
Everybody thought she was crazy.
Maybe she was.
But this was something she had to do. For her mother’s sake. And her own. People had been controlling her all her life. It was time to show everyone that Lily had grown up.
Kendall Talbot is the author of the Maximum Exposure series, and many other action/adventure stories. A thrill seeker, hopeless romantic, and award-winning author of stories that’ll have your heart thumping from action-packed suspense and steamy bedroom scenes, she lives in Brisbane, Australia with her very own hero and a fluffy little dog who specializes in hijacking her writing time. Meanwhile, Kendall’s two sons are off making their own adventures—look out world
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