XOXO After Dark is so excited to announce that Exposed, the newest print and ebook title from New York Times best selling author, Laura Griffin, just hit stores this week!
Every picture tells a story. But not all of them have happy endings.
As a forensic photographer at the Delphi Center crime lab, Maddie Callahan is used to seeing violence up close, but she’s never before been the target of it. When a freelance photo shoot goes awry, she realizes she may have seen, and perhaps photographed, the kidnapping of a key witness in a federal probe. And although her camera was stolen, Maddie knows she has something that could be even more valuable to investigators.
FBI agent Brian Beckman has spent months investigating a vicious criminal known as the Doctor, only to have a key witness abducted on his watch. Worse, he’s falling for the woman who may be the Doctor’s next target. Maddie’s aloof facade hides a world of hurt that he wants to heal, no matter how much she keeps him at bay. But first he has to protect her from the danger that’s just out of focus, drawing close enough to shoot . . . and kill.
Check out an excerpt from EXPOSED below.
Maddie Callahan’s newest clients seemed to have everything—youth, looks, money—which was precisely why she doubted their marriage would work. But she kept her opinions to herself as she snapped what she hoped was the final shot of the day.
“That should do it for the church backdrop. So, we’re all set?”
“What about the footbridge?” The bride-to-be smiled up at her fiancé. “I can post it on the blog with our engagement story.”
“Whatever you want, babe.”
Maddie stifled an eye roll and turned to check out the park. It wasn’t overly crowded—just a few people walking dogs—but their light was fading.
“I know it’s getting late.” Hannah held her hands together like a prayer and looked at Maddie. “But could we get something real quick?”
“We can if we hurry,” Maddie said, collapsing her tripod and looping her camera strap around her neck. She waited for a break in traffic and led Hannah and Devon across Main Street to the park, where she deposited her equipment beside the lily pond. She glanced around, cataloging the details of the composition. The wooden footbridge formed a low arc over the water. Sunlight glistened off the pond’s surface, creating a shimmery, storybook effect that Maddie had taken advantage of before. As one of the few natural backdrops in this congested college town, the park was a good place for wedding photos—or in this case, engagement shots. Normally Maddie liked using it, but this appointment had run way over schedule and she was anxious to get back to the lab. She opted to skip the tripod and keep this quick.
Maddie composed the shot as Hannah arranged her future husband behind her. In matching white Oxfords, faded jeans, and cowboy boots, the couple’s look today was what Maggie thought of as Texas preppy. Hannah settled their clasped hands on the side of the bridge, putting her two-carat diamond on prominent display.
“How’s this?” she asked.
“Perfect.” Maddie snapped the picture. “I think I got it. Just a few more and… that’s it. You’re done.”
Both pairs of shoulders relaxed. Devon looked at his watch, clearly relieved to be finished with what he probably thought was a marathon photo shoot. He had no idea what awaited him on his wedding day.
Hannah turned and smiled up at him. “Do I have lipstick on my teeth, sweets?”
He grinned down at her. “No. Do I?”
Maddie lifted her camera one last time as he reached down to brush a lock of hair from his fiancée’s face.
And that was the money shot. Maddie knew it the instant she took it. The ring wasn’t in the picture, but she hoped they’d order a print anyway. Maybe they’d put it in a frame on their mantel, where they could glance at it occasionally and be reminded of the genuine fondness they’d had for each other before the years set in.
And, really, what more could anyone ask of a wedding picture?
Her mission accomplished, Maddie collected her equipment.
“How soon can we see something?” Hannah asked as she joined her on the grass.
“Oh, I’m guessing—” Maggie checked the time. Damn, it was already 5:40. “I should have these posted to the site by tomorrow—plenty of time to pick one for Sunday’s paper.”
The bride-to-be looked crestfallen. “You mean not by tonight?”
Maddie took a deep breath. She counted to three mentally. Yes, her day job paid the bills, but freelance work was the icing on her cake. And that business relied heavily on referrals.
“I’ll do my best,” she said brightly, even though it meant turning her whole evening upside-down. And that assumed she wouldn’t get called out for some emergency. “I can probably get you something by midnight. If I do, I’ll email you the password for the gallery.”
“Thank you! I really appreciate it. Everyone’s dying to see how these turn out.”
Maddie wasn’t sure who “everyone” was, but she managed to keep a cheerful expression on her face as they exchanged goodbyes. Then she hitched her tripod onto her shoulder and trekked across the park.
Her stomach growled as she headed for the garage where she’d parked. She cast a longing look at the sandwich shop on the corner. Food would have to wait. She needed to get back to the lab and send out half a dozen files before she could possibly call it a day.
She ducked into the shade of the parking garage, avoiding the stairwell in favor of the ramp. The blustery February wind had died down, and the air was thick with car exhaust. Maddie hugged the concrete wall so she wouldn’t get clipped by a driver rounding the corner. She reached the third level and spotted her little white Prius tucked beside a pickup. She dug the phone from her purse and checked for messages. Her boss, her sister, her boss, her boss.
Shoes scuffed behind her. The skin at the back of her neck prickled. Maddie paused and pretended to be reading something on her phone as she listened.
Her pulse picked up. She resumed her pace.
She whirled around. No one. She clutched the phone in her hand and darted her gaze up and down the rows of cars. She searched for anyone lurking, any ominous shadows—but she was alone.
Anxiety gnawed at her as she surveyed her surroundings. It was light out. The streets below hummed with traffic. Still, she tightened her grip on the tripod. She tucked the phone in her purse and felt for her pepper spray.
In the corner of her eye, movement. She pivoted toward it and registered two things at once: man and ski mask. Fear shot through her. Maddie swung the tripod around like a baseball bat as the man barreled into her, slamming her against the pickup. The tripod jerked from her grip and clattered to the ground. Hands clamped around her neck. Maddie punched and bucked as fingers dug into her skin. She tried to scream. No air. Gray eyes glared at her through the holes in the mask.
She smashed the heel of her hand into his nose and felt bone crunch. He staggered back. Maddie jerked sideways. He lunged for her, grabbing the collar of her jacket. She twisted out of it and bolted for the stairwell.
“Help!” she shrieked, yanking open the door. She leaped down the stairs, rounded the landing, leaped down more. Her butt hit concrete, but she groped for the railing and hauled herself up. Hinges squeaked above her. Her pulse skittered. Footsteps thundered over her head.
But they were alone in the sound-proof shaft. Another landing, a door. She shoved it open and dashed through. She searched desperately for people, but saw only rows and rows of cars. Another door. Light-headed with terror, she pushed it open and stumbled into an alley. On her right, a passageway lined with Dumpsters. On her left, a gray car parked at the mouth of the alley. Someone was inside.
Maddie rushed for the car. It lurched forward. She halted, stunned, as it charged toward her like a rhino. Behind her a door banged open. Maddie sprinted away from the door and the car. The engine roared behind her as she raced down the alley. The noise was at her heels, almost on top of her. Panic zinged through her like an electric current as her arms and legs pumped. The car bore down on her. At the last possible second, she dove sideways behind a Dumpster and felt a great whoosh of air as the car shot past. The squeal of brakes echoed through the alley.
Maddie darted through the space between the back bumper and the Dumpster. She raced for the street. Despair clogged her throat as she realized the distance she’d covered. Where was the ski mask guy? The people and traffic noise seemed impossibly far away. She raced toward the mouth of the alley as fast as her burning legs could carry her.
The man jumped from a doorway. They crashed to the ground in a heap of arms and legs and flying elbows. Her skin scraped against the pavement as she kicked free of him and scrambled to her feet. He grabbed the strap of her camera and her body jerked violently. She landed on her side as a fist pummeled her and pain exploded behind her eyes. She managed to roll to her knees as another blow hit her shoulder. She fell forward, but caught herself on her palms and kicked backward, desperate not to end up on the ground under him.
She struggled for her feet, but her vision blurred and the strap was like a noose around her neck. The vinegary taste of fear filled her mouth. He heaved his weight into her, smashing her against the wall. The strap tightened again. Maddie gripped it with her hands. She tried to buck him off, but he was strong and wiry and determined to get her into a headlock. His arm clamped around her throat. She turned her head to the side and bit hard through the fabric of his T-shirt. The grip loosened for a moment and she twisted free of the strap, the arms, the fingers clawing at her. Adrenaline burst through her veins as she realized this might be her only chance.
She rolled to her feet and rocketed down the alley, toward the noise and cars and people that meant safety. Faster, faster, faster! Every cell in her body throbbed with the knowledge that he was behind her. Her heart hammered. Her muscles strained. Faster! For the first time, she thought of a gun and imagined a bullet tearing through skin and bone. She surged forward, shrieking hoarsely and racing for the mouth of the alley.
Behind her a car door slammed. Tires squealed over the asphalt. She glanced back as the gray car shot down the alley, moving away from her. Taillights glowed. Another screech of tires as the car whipped around the corner.
Maddie stopped and slumped against the side of the building. Her breath came in ragged gasps. Her lungs burned, and it felt as though her heart was being squeezed like a lemon. Something warm trickled down her face. She touched a hand to her cheek and her fingers came away red.
Tears stung her eyes as she looked down at herself. Her purse was gone. Her camera was gone. Her phone was gone. She wasn’t gone, at least. She was here—in one shaking, terrified, Jell-O-y piece. But her knees felt so weak she didn’t know if they would hold her up. She closed her eyes and tried to think.
She couldn’t stay in the alley. But she couldn’t go back in that garage—maybe never again. She looked out at the street, at the steady flow of cars and people. Her gaze landed on the neon sign in the window of the sandwich shop. It glowed red in the gray of dusk, beckoning her to safety with its simple message: open.
Maddie pushed away from the wall. On quivering legs, she stumbled toward the sign.