EXCERPT: Casual Impressions by Kennedy Layne
In this electrifying novel from USA Today Bestselling Author Kennedy Layne, the Safeguard team is coming ever closer to catching an elusive serial killer who might very well be hunting one of their own…
Sawyer Madison has spent the last few months hunting down a sadistic killer. He and his team don’t seem to be any closer to solving this particular case that has hit a little too close to home. Fortunately, they had all served in the Corps. That kind of training and dedication meant none of them considered quitting before the mission was done.
Camryn Novak had spent most of her childhood, and a large part of her adult life, dealing with her overprotective brother. So when an admirer becomes a little too obsessed with her due to her high-profile career, she decides it would be simpler to reach out to someone a little less emotionally invested.
Sawyer never expected to bump into the sister of one of his teammates while traveling on assignment. Women like her were off limits—one shouldn’t mix business with pleasure. One burning touch was all it took to make his good intentions go up in flames. Unfortunately, it won’t just be her brother’s wrath he’s forced to face when an unknown perp targets Camryn—it might very well be the same psychopath they’ve been hunting all along.
“You look like you could use some help.”
Camryn glanced up to find an attractive male around five years her junior standing before her. He had a beer glass in one hand and was holding up his other arm to grab the attention of the bartender. In seconds, another hand towel was tossed their way— this one damp with soda water. It didn’t take a genius to figure out from the man’s southern drawl, or the immediate attention he’d garnered from the staff, that he was a recognized face here.
“Thank you,” Camryn said, raising her voice so that he could hear her over the conversations around them.
She had her long, dark brown strands pulled back at the base of her neck. She’d purposefully chosen a pair of sunglasses that were too dark to wear casually, which was why she’d flipped them up onto her head earlier this evening.
Camryn used the sunglasses earlier to prevent people from recognizing her and hadn’t given it a second thought upon entering this establishment. She should have taken Aiden up on his offer to walk her back to her hotel, but she hadn’t caught sight of the man taking pictures until she’d started strolling down the infamous Bourbon Street.
“You look familiar.” The man had somehow magically exchanged his beer for a glass of soda water and was offering it to her so that she could dip the towel into the cleansing liquid. His curious gaze never left her face. “Do I know you from somewhere?”
“I don’t think we’ve met,” Camryn replied with a small smile to hide her convenient lie. She took the towel from his hand and quickly wiped the coarse material down her arms and chest. She was now wishing she’d worn a light jacket. “I wasn’t watching where I was going and bumped into someone with a fresh Hurricane, of all things. Needless to say, it spilled on both of us.”
“It sounds like you could use a drink yourself,” the man surmised, holding up his hand once more to signify to the bartender that he wanted another round of whatever he was having. “Bourbon Street tends to be a bit crowded during this time of night. It’s rare anyone goes home without a set of beads and in desperate need of a shower.”
“Speaking of home, I really should be moving along.” Camryn pressed a now clean hand against the back pocket of her jeans, confirming that her phone, identification, and credit card were still in place. She hadn’t wanted to carry a purse with so many people milling about. “I have an early business meeting.”
“Do you live in the Parish? Like I said, you look familiar. Maybe I’ve seen you around socially.”
“I’m from Illinois,” Camryn automatically replied, having learned long ago never to reveal the location of her current address to a stranger. Technically, this time she wasn’t actually lying. Her mother still resided in Chicago. “Thank you so much for the towel and soda water. I—”
Camryn had just tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear when she caught sight of a black camera— the same one she’d spotted leaving the last bar. Large hands were busy adjusting the lens as the man zoomed in on her, most likely modifying his focus due to the dim lighting between the front room and the side area where the bar was located. She forced herself to really examine the figure behind the camera, noticing right away he didn’t carry a bulging case like the typical paparazzi.
He also didn’t have any type of identification badge hanging around his neck like most of the press photographers, not that it was a prerequisite for independents. Something told her this man had nothing to do with any gossip rag or reputable magazine.
He was just shadowing her.
“Oh, shit,” the man exclaimed excitedly, having turned to see who had caught her interest. The camera must have triggered his memory. “You’re Camryn Novak! Guys, come over here! Camryn Novak is right here!”
This wasn’t the type of attention she was hoping for at the moment, but it was almost impossible for her to just up and leave now that a crowd began to form around her. The only benefit of her present situation was the fact that she was no longer visible to the man who’d once again tracked her down.
Who was he?
Granted, he might just be an obsessed fan who wanted to take her picture and was too shy to ask her to strike a pose, but that wasn’t what her intuition was telling her. He had an aggressive manner about him.
The next fifteen minutes inched by as she spent the time getting her photograph taken by the patrons and signing napkins for those who sought an autograph. Camryn was mystified why anyone would want a picture with her wearing a red-stained blouse, with her looking all windblown and just one hot mess.
Camryn still managed to paste a smile on her face, all the while doing her best not to panic at the thought of leaving here unaccompanied to walk to her hotel.
Where was he now?
He had to be nearby waiting for her to leave. Unfortunately, both exits were visible from the corner.
She could always call her brother’s friend. He would certainly deter any unwanted advances. He also just happened to be in town on business. She immediately discarded that thought after a single moment of reflection, refusing to let word get back to Brody that his baby sister couldn’t take care of herself while strolling down Bourbon Street on a typical November weekday evening.
Camryn had fought very hard to get this far in her life, and she wouldn’t ruin it now.
Another napkin was pushed in front of her, but she didn’t sign it right away. There was already writing imbedded into the rough material. She froze as the black ink finally penetrated, though the indentions made no sense to her at first.
Why were there a series of numbers written on a napkin?
Her name was also etched onto the white square, right above the date… a date that wouldn’t occur for another two weeks yet.
It was then that a cold realization settled over her unlike anything she had ever experienced.
She had to be mistaken. Maybe someone wanted to date her autograph and had just gotten the day of the month wrong. That was more plausible than the thoughts racing through her mind.
Brody Novak. Her brother— the same brother who was working for a privately contracted security agency. He and his team were currently searching for a notorious serial killer who had escaped from federal prison only a few months ago. Shepherd Moss had been the name of the bloodthirsty murderer, and he’d been convicted of killing eighteen women after torturing them for days on end, only to then carve the date of their death into their bodies while they were still breathing.
It was ludicrous to think that the same serial killer would target her of all people, just to get back at her brother, all because of who his employer was and what they were doing to hunt him down.
It was just a date written on a napkin.
It didn’t mean anything to anyone.
She should never have had that second drink she’d been offered. Her mind was starting to twist innocent facts. She was taking a relatively innocuous incident and making it into something it couldn’t possibly be.
Camryn scrunched the white cocktail napkin in the palm of her hand as she lifted her head and scanned the crowd. Her heart stuttered when her eyes landed on that same black lens, but she stood firm. She should have confronted this creep when she’d first spotted him.
There he was by the entrance of the wide-open foyer, the camera once again blocking the majority of his face.
Camryn couldn’t stop her brother’s voice from whispering all those casual warnings in her head repeatedly.
Shepherd Moss was a wanted man, listed on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list. His picture had been plastered across the national media endlessly. She tried to make herself see reason and not get herself caught up in the moment. There was absolutely no way he could be walking around New Orleans without someone spotting him. She struggled to recall his features, but the image of his face wouldn’t surface no matter how hard she tried.
She’d recognize him if she saw him, right?
She watched in somewhat disbelief as he released the camera with one hand, reaching his arm out to her and pointing his finger at the napkin still hanging from her fingertips.
It hadn’t been a mistake. The date written in black ink had been intentional. There was no doubt he was responsible for the odd notation in her hand.
Camryn had seen a lot in her line of business— one of them being what stalkers could do to mess with a fellow actress or actor’s mind. It went both ways. It was as if they had some kind of perverse relationship.
She had no idea if this man was Shepherd Moss or just some random guy who’d grown an unhealthy obsession over her, but she’d be damned if she would sit back and play the terrifying female role when she had a trove of adoring male fans around to utilize in her defense. There were too many witnesses for this man to do anything violent to her. After all, the best defense was a good offense.
Her brother had taught her to take the initiative.
Camryn didn’t waste time as she elbowed her way through the massive crowd, ignoring the calls for more autographs as she drew attention to herself. All eyes were on her, but her sole focus was on the man with the camera who’d been following her for at least thirty minutes, if not longer. She didn’t miss his startled reaction when he hastily took a step back away from her rushing figure. He spun on his worn brown loafers and only then lowered the camera as he tried to get past the patrons standing in the entryway.
She memorized every detail she could of his backside, all the way down to the generic set of khaki pants he was wearing with a brown belt to match his shoes. He was distancing himself quickly and she tried her best to catch up to him before he left the building, but it was futile.
The man had vanished by the time her wedge sandals hit the black and white checkered tile floor of the entrance.
Camryn scanned the crowd passing by just outside the double doors, even though she was aware her search was pointless. She still stepped outside into the cooling night air, hoping to catch some glimpse of him. It appeared she’d scared him off by taking the offensive, but the question remained… would he linger behind and wait for another glimpse of her? Would he be able to detect her amongst the crowd when it came time to leave? If the answer was yes, then she would need to be prepared. That did not include a call to her brother, who would only put her in some sort of protective custody, most likely deploying the entire New Orleans Police Department in the meantime.
She had another trump up her sleeve, and she was willing to use it if she could get a guarantee that word wouldn’t get back to Brody. Before placing that call, she needed to finish what she’d started inside the pub. She didn’t seek out publicity, but she was never rude to a fan once she was recognized.
The shove at her shoulder was so unexpected that she immediately lost her balance.
Camryn frantically flailed her arms to reach out to the nearest person, but her fingers couldn’t grab ahold of anything.
All she caught was air and though she tried to brace herself for the impact of the street, she was unsuccessful.
Camryn’s head hit the cement curb and then… nothing.
She was so beautiful… lying there on the sidewalk with her lashes resting on her flushed cheeks. Or was that from the neon red light from the crosswalk sign? It didn’t really matter. People still surrounded her if they really cared whether she lived or died. Had her gluttonous heart stopped beating, her memory would vanish within days. As usual, it didn’t take long before a few of these strangers recognized her.
It was sickening.
Why was she so special?
He wanted to take a picture of her lying there prostrate at his feet so he could recall this moment in time over and over as he prepared.
After all, this was the magical moment both of their lives had changed.
Meet The Author: Kennedy Layne
Kennedy Layne is a USA Today bestselling author. She draws inspiration for her military romantic suspense novels in part from her not-so-secret second life as a wife of a retired Marine Master Sergeant. He doubles as her critique partner, beta reader, and military consultant. They live in the Midwest with their teenage son and menagerie of pets. The loyal dogs and mischievous cats appreciate her writing days as much as she does, usually curled up in front of the fireplace. She loves hearing from readers--find out how to connect with her at www.kennedylayne.com.