THE WRONG TARGET
While investigating a murder at Rikki Allen's house,
detective Blain Kent realizes the victim looks a lot like
Rikki. Could the secretive widow have been the target? He
wants answers, but Rikki is unusually cagey. When the killer
comes after Rikki at a safe location, Blain finally gets the
truth out of her: she's the daughter of Franco Alvanetti—the
notorious crime kingpin. A by-the-book former marine, Blain
has made it his life mission to put the Alvanetti family out
of business. Yet he has to trust Rikki to protect her from a
killer who wants her dead by Christmas.
Men of Millbrook Lake: Four men find love and family
The sickle moon dipped down in the dark sky, reaching toward
the gray surface of Millbrook Lake like a slinky hand trying
to touch the water. The nip of winter covered the dusk in a
crisp, fresh-smelling blanket of evening dew.
Blain Kent inhaled a deep, cleansing breath and hit his
stride on the path around the big oval lake, the cadence of
his nightly run echoing behind him. All around him, the
quaint turn-of-the-century houses shone with pretty white
lights and fresh evergreen wreaths tied up with bright red bows.
Christmas had come to Northwest Florida. But tonight, Blain
had to work off that big Thanksgiving meal he'd enjoyed at
his parents' house two days ago. He also needed to work off
his retired law enforcement father's always critical
comments. Blain might have followed in his father's
footsteps by returning from combat to take a job with the
Millbrook Police Department, but that was where the
Serving for over twenty-five years in the sheriff's
department and finally becoming the county sheriff, Sam Kent
had tried to keep the peace by pandering to the local elite
and turning a blind eye on the powerful Alvanetti crime
family that tried to run the entire state of Florida.
Alleged crime family since no one could ever pin
anything illegal on Franco Alvanetti.
While Blain tried to do an honest day's work and solve
crimes by the book, it irritated him to no end that he
couldn't find a single piece of incriminating evidence on
the Alvanetti clan. So Blain and his still-influential
father had a difference of opinion on which way worked best.
Blain didn't pander to anyone.
Blain rounded a corner, his thoughts centered on the harsh
words he and his father had slung at each other while Mom
was in the kitchen dishing up pumpkin pie.
"Don't be so hard on yourself or anyone else around here,"
Dad had said in his deep, disapproving voice. "You have to
make it work, son. Don't make waves. Just keep the peace."
"I want it to work, Dad. For everyone, not just the rich
people who live around the lake and out on the canal."
Blain approached that canal now, out of habit his cop's gaze
taking in his surroundings. He wouldn't let that
conversation with his father ruin his good mood. Not
tonight, with that moon hanging over the lake and the whole
world alive with the promise of something true and honest
around the bend. Christmas was coming. All would be right
with the world.
And then he heard a gunshot followed a few seconds later by
a woman's scream.
Blain's radar went into overdrive. He glanced up and down
the narrow part of the lake that met up with the Millbrook
River. On both sides of the canal, town houses and apartment
buildings lined the way. Blain stopped, listening, his gaze
sweeping the left side of the river, where the footpath
turned into a boardwalk along the row of houses. Footbridges
connected both sides, most high enough for large boats to
Where had the gunshot and scream come from?
Maybe a car had backfired but he knew a gunshot when he
heard one and the scream had definitely been real. He heard
footfalls coming toward him. Blain wasn't carrying his
weapon, but he waited, anyway. He knew how to defend himself.
A small figure came running up the boardwalk. As the
silhouette came nearer, he grew even more concerned.
A woman. She sprinted toward him, her long dark hair flying
out behind her like a lacy shawl. She kept glancing back as
if she were running away from someone.
"Ma'am, are you hurt?"
She came to a surprised stop and drew to a halt a few feet
away from him, fear radiating off her body.
"I…I need help," she said on a shaky voice, her breathing
shallow. "Someone was inside my house when I got home and…I
think they shot my friend."
"I'm a police officer," he said to calm her. "Stay there.
I'll walk toward you."
She searched behind her and then turned back, her expression
full of fear and doubt. "How do I know you're telling the
Blain tugged his badge out of the inside pocket of his
hoodie and held it up so she could see it in the street
light's glow. "See? Millbrook Police Department."
When the woman frowned and backed away, he said, "Just
relax. I won't hurt you. Have you called 911?"
"No. I just got out of there," she said again, glancing back
behind her. "I need…your help. Someone was in my house. I
heard them, saw them in my backyard."
"Okay, I'm here." He walked closer, his badge in one hand
and the other hand out so she could see it. "What happened
"It's not me," she said, her dark eyes flashing. "It's my
friend Tessa." She pointed, flinging her arm back behind
her. "I…I think she's dead. I mean, I know she's dead. I
found her there after I heard a gunshot outside my back
door. I…I ran out and saw a man running away."
Blain's instincts kicked in. A murder in Millbrook. That was
something he rarely had to deal with. "Show me. Can you take
me to your place? I can check on your friend and check your
house. And we'll call for backup, too."
The woman nodded, pushed at her hair, her dark eyes going
black. "Yes. She's…she's at my town house. Up there."
She motioned toward the end of the long canal to a prime
spot of real estate on the corner. Nice for sunsets and
enjoying the channel that opened up into the lake and river.
Blain clipped his badge on the outside pocket of his hoodie.
"Okay, show me where you found the woman and let me check
She waited, her hands fisted against a trim dark jacket.
Blain came up beside her. "I'm Detective Blain Kent."
She didn't acknowledge that introduction but she did uncurl
her fingers. Blain took the seconds ticking by to notice her
hands and her face. No sign of a struggle and no visible
wounds or any sign of blood. But she looked shocked and
dazed. "What's your name?"
Okay, Rikki who obviously didn't want to give out too much
information right now.
He followed her between the narrow, two-storied houses, each
one similar to the next except they were painted in various
colors of pastel blues and yellows, mixed in with vivid
whites. This new, swank development had the same Victorian
flair as the turn-of-the-century homes along the lake. And
came with a high price tag to match.
"I live here," she said, hurrying now as they approached a
muted yellow townhome. "She's out on the patio."
She went through an open ornate gate decorated with a bright
red-and-green wreath, but she stopped and took Blain's hand
when he came up behind her.
A charge of awareness rushed up his arm, like a river wake
rippling against the shore. Blain held to her, thinking how
tiny her hand felt against his. He didn't argue or pull away.
She might bolt if he made a wrong move.
"There," she said with a gulp. "She comes to stay with me
sometimes on weekends. I heard the shot when I came in the
house and found her when I saw the back door open."
Blain took in the scene. A cedar wooden table overturned, a
matching chair flipped over, its striped cushions lying
against the brick surface of the spacious patio. He glanced
from those items to the woman lying on her stomach against
the redbrick, blood pooling all around her. Blain made his
way to the woman, careful not to disturb anything. He knelt
and checked her neck for a pulse.
He stood and pulled out his phone. "Is she…is she dead?"
He nodded to the obvious. "Yes. I have to call it in and I
need to check inside."
"I'm going with you," the woman said, averting her gaze from
the dead woman. "I…I heard someone and then I heard the gun
go off. He shot her."
"Did you see him shoot her?"
"No. I came home and walked through the house. Then I heard
the gunshot. He ran away when I screamed."
She was in shock, no doubt about that. "I need you to wait
out here, okay? You can sit on the porch."
She nodded and allowed him to guide her to the small covered
area where a white wrought-iron bistro set was hidden by a
thick jasmine vine.
"I'm calling for backup and then I'll check the scene. Don't
move from this spot."
"Okay." She leaned her elbows on the table and hung her head
in her hands. "Hurry, please."
Blain went inside, all the while on the phone with dispatch.
Nothing downstairs. Just a couple of open drawers and
cabinets. He silently made his way upstairs where he found
two bedrooms. Pretty much the same. A closet open and
ransacked and some jewelry scattered on a dresser in what
looked like the master bedroom. A purse dumped in the guest
After clearing the place, he came back outside. "I didn't
find anyone else inside," he said to the woman.
He studied the scene while he explained things to the
dispatcher. The woman had been shot in the back. Running
away? Then he noticed where her right hand lay out from her
body. The blood spatter there looked smeared with a pattern
that looked like some sort of letter—a K with a line
next to it. Interesting. He took a picture with his cell phone.
When he heard a soft moan, he turned to find Rikki standing
by the porch railing, her gaze caught on the dead woman.
She pivoted, a hand to her mouth. He could see her shoulders
moving. He heard soft sobs. While he explained his location
and the situation, he also noticed something else about the
woman lying there on the cold brick.
She looked a lot like the woman standing there sobbing.
Rikki sat in a chair in the den while several police
officers moved all around her. The Millbrook Police
Department wasn't that big. Maybe three or four full-time
officers and one very good-looking detective. She knew this
because her family made it their business to keep up with
the locals. But she'd been gone a few years and this new
detective was different from the good ole boys she remembered.
He looked too intense and moody to bow down to anyone.
She took another gulp of air and closed her eyes to the
scene she'd come home and found an hour ago. The house
quiet, her cat gone, and the patio door open. Lights
blinking away on the Christmas tree by the fireplace. Tessa?
She'd called out, thinking her friend had gone out back,
maybe had taken Pebble with her since the big, fluffy cat
liked to lie across the patio floor bricks, warm from the
setting sun. And then she'd looked up and heard a gun firing.
But when she'd hurried outside, the last rays of the sunset
had shown with a bright clarity on Tessa lying there. Still.
So still. Rikki had screamed and then she'd hurried to find
her phone. But when she'd heard footsteps running away and
saw a man in her yard, she'd bolted away. Ran like a coward,
to what? Where had she been heading?
Away. She needed to get away. If anyone knew who she really was.
She whirled on her chair, her heartbeat drumming against her
Blain Kent knelt in front of her, one hand on the arm of the
high-backed floral chair, a notebook and ink pen in his
other hand. "Is there anyone you can call? Can you stay
someplace else tonight?"
Rikki wanted to laugh but she couldn't muster up the
strength. She did straighten in the chair, her gaze grabbing
onto his face. If she weren't so numb with fear and shock,
she'd flirt with him. But she didn't want to flirt. She
wanted to go back and walk in the door and see Tessa
standing in the kitchen, waiting for their night out on the
town in Pensacola. Dinner and conversation and maybe a
little flirting. Just a little.
"Rikki? Miss Allen?"
"I'll be okay here."
"It might not be safe." He rocked back on his heels, his
sweatpants stretching to accommodate his solid leg muscles.
"Do you know of anyone who might want to harm Tessa Jones or
"No." She closed her eyes and prayed for strength. "I…I left
Tallahassee to get away for a while. I just broke up with my
The detective's eyes lit up at that statement. "How bad was
"Bad enough. But he doesn't know where I am."
"Did you get a good look at the person?"
She tried to remember. "No. Just from behind. He had on dark
clothes, like sweats and a cap. Tall. He was tall. With
black running shoes."
"Okay, that's something to go on."
"I left her lying there. I was so scared."
He let that go but Rikki felt sure he'd ask her more on that
subject later. Could Chad have done this? Was he that
vicious, that cruel?
"Tell me more about Tessa Jones," the detective said.
Rikki swallowed the heaviness in her throat. "Tessa grew up
in Georgia but she lives in Tallahassee. We went to college
"We'll be investigating her background but if you can think
of anything that might help us, tell me now."
His words had gone into what sounded like a firm command.
He'd probably investigate Rikki's background, too. "Do you
suspect me, Detective?"
His expression was as fluid and unreadable as a midnight
ocean. "I'm just trying to put the pieces together." He
studied his notes. "It looks like she tried to write
something. I can't be sure, but…some of the blood pattern
looks like the letter K with a line slashed through it."
Rikki's stomach roiled and almost revolted at that image. "I
don't know. She calls me KK sometimes. Her nickname for me."
She lowered her head, hoping to stop the nausea.
"You need anything?"
She glanced up at his face, the five o'clock shadow making
him look mysterious. "I'm fine."
"So why was Tessa here alone?"
"We were meeting here for the weekend to catch up. I travel
a lot so I don't get up here very often." She glanced
around, wondering how she'd ever feel safe here again. "I
have clients in the area. Orders coming in for art and
furnishings. I was on my way home. She knew where to find
He studied her with an intense inky gaze that left her
rattled. "So you're here for work and to get away from
Tallahassee and your ex-boyfriend."
"What's his name?"
She looked out toward where the medical examiner was about
to take away Tessa's cold body. Should she tell him the
truth? Should she admit the things that would cause him to
suspect her of all kinds of crimes? Or should she sit here
like a lump and pretend her life wasn't falling apart?
"Miss Allen? You said you came here to get away from him?"
Rikki lifted her head, her gaze slamming into his. Did he
already have her figured out? "Yes, and to take care of some
clients in the area and mostly, for a visit with my mother."
No, she'd covered all of her bases on that a long time ago.
No one could figure her out. She should be safe.
But here she was, back in the one town she'd sworn she'd
never return to again. For oh, so many reasons.
"Why did you need to get away from your ex?"
She didn't want to talk about Chad. "We've been apart for a
while but he's having a hard time letting go. I just wanted
some time away, to think about things."
"So you came here. Not that far away."
She bobbed her head. "My mother is sick," she said,
sincerity her only hope. "I came to visit her during the
holidays. I don't get back here too often."
"And who's your mother? Maybe you could go and stay with her?"
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Men of Millbrook Lake
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