Save Your Breath (Morgan Dane #6)

Save Your Breath (Morgan Dane #6)

Melinda Leigh

Chapter One

Where is she?

Hiding in the shadows outside Olivia Cruz’s small white bungalow, he checked his watch. It was nearly ten o’clock. For the past few weeks, Olivia had left her house on Thursday evenings around five o’clock and returned by nine thirty. She should be home by now. Unless she’d changed her routine.

He crossed his arms and tapped his chin with a forefinger.

Maybe she wasn’t coming home at all tonight. She occasionally spent the night at her boyfriend’s house. Sometimes, the boyfriend slept here, but that hadn’t happened on a Thursday night.

He’d give her another twenty minutes. If she didn’t show up, he’d return to his van. He’d left the vehicle at a park about a mile away and jogged to Olivia’s house. For now, he was comfortable and in a good position near her garage. A six-foot section of fencing at the front corner of the bungalow shielded the garbage can from passersby and provided him with an excellent hiding place. The September night had a pleasant snap. He peered around the wooden panel and scanned the street. The suburban neighborhood was quiet enough to hear the soft sounds of the night. A breeze rustled dead leaves on the grass, and a dog barked in the distance.

Headlights swept across blacktop as a car turned onto the street. Excitement and nerves warmed his blood.

Is it her?

He took a long, deep breath of woodsmoke-scented air and controlled his heart rate. He’d studied his target and planned the night with meticulous precision. Yesterday, he’d collected the surveillance cameras he’d planted several weeks before. Designed to catch thieves stealing packages from doorsteps, they looked like landscape rocks. With sixty days of battery life and cellular transmission, the cameras had allowed him to monitor Olivia’s activity remotely. The cameras—and plenty of good old-fashioned surveillance from his van and the shed of a vacant house behind hers—had enabled him to paint an accurate picture of her daily routine.

He would take no chances.

The vehicle approached. A white Prius. Olivia’s car. She was home.

It was on.

He cracked his neck and pulled the gloves from his pocket. After tugging them on, he opened his lightweight running backpack in which he carried a roll of duct tape, a length of rope, a mask, and a knife. His fingers traced the outline of a capped syringe in the chest pocket of his jacket.

He had everything he needed.

He pulled the mask from his backpack and put it on. In the unlikely event he was unsuccessful, his identity had to be protected. He’d prepared for every possible what-if. Having a Plan B was just as important as a Plan A. He could not get caught.

The garage door rolled up, and the interior brightened. The Prius turned into the driveway of Olivia’s bungalow and drove into the garage. Listening, he poised on the balls of his feet and waited.

Timing was key.

Inside the garage, a car door opened, then closed. Olivia’s heels clicked on the concrete. He pictured her crossing the floor to the door that led into the house and then simultaneously opening the door and reaching for the button on the wall. Mounted to the ceiling, the garage door opener clicked and hummed. A moment later, the door began to roll down. He heard the interior door close. Like most people, Olivia went inside before the garage door fully closed.

As it lowered, he ducked and stepped over the red-eye sensor into the garage. He had no time to waste. Olivia would have disarmed her security system using her fob from the car before she entered the house. From his surveillance over the past few weeks, he knew she would go into the kitchen, set down her purse, and remove her jacket and shoes before digging the fob out of her pocket. He had at least sixty seconds to get in before she reactivated the system—with him already inside the house. Olivia sometimes woke and paced her house in the middle of the night, so he knew she didn’t use motion detectors when she was at home.

Counting off the seconds, he strode toward the door, his running shoes silent on the floor. His fingers closed around the knob, and he gave it a gentle twist. He pushed lightly and opened the door an inch. Pressing his eye to the crack, he looked inside. The laundry room was empty, with only dim light bleeding in from the adjoining kitchen. This was the part he hadn’t been able to plan. He’d never been inside her house before. He knew only the basic layout of the rooms from what he could see through the windows.

Pushing the door farther, he slid through the opening, then closed it soundlessly behind him, making sure to release the knob slowly. Then he stood and listened. A doorway led from the laundry room into the kitchen. The white-paneled door between the rooms stood open. A few breaths later, a soft beep signaled the reactivation of the alarm system, and he heard Olivia moving around in the kitchen. Footsteps approached, and sweat broke out under his arms. He glanced around, looking for a place to hide. There was a closet across the room, but he wouldn’t make it in time. His heartbeat thudded in his ears as he slid behind the open laundry room door and then pressed his back to the wall.

Then he waited.

He could overpower her here if necessary, but that wasn’t ideal. Olivia looked like a scrapper. She’d fight him. He preferred quick and easy.

Her shadow passed across the doorway, and her steps retreated again. He heard the sound of the refrigerator opening and closing.

He exhaled.

Another door opened farther back in the house. Olivia was going into her bedroom. He crossed the tile in a few strides and opened the closet door. It was full of heavy winter boots and coats. Perfect. She wouldn’t be opening it tonight.

He slid inside to wait for the house to become quiet again.

For Olivia to go to sleep.

For the perfect time to execute his plan.

Chapter Two

Olivia Cruz stared at her open closet. She’d spent the last hour rearranging her clothes for autumn. Technically, mid-September was still summer, but the weather in upstate New York had turned cool over the past week. The leaves were changing color and beginning to fall. Last week, she’d broken out her flannel pajamas. Tonight, she’d moved her sandals to a rear shelf and lined up a few pairs of ankle boots in front.

Now what? She could separate her blouses by color.

This is stupid.

Her closet was already ridiculously, ruthlessly organized.

She had an important decision to make, and she’d been procrastinating for days. She backed out of the walk-in closet and firmly closed the door. Sleep would help. But she’d managed little of that lately, and she dreaded lying in bed, staring at the ceiling for yet another night. She rubbed a lump of indigestion behind her breastbone and padded to the bathroom in search of an antacid.

Her weekly dinner with her family had distracted her earlier in the evening. Her mother had served frijoles negros, Olivia’s favorite traditional Cuban dish. Olivia had overindulged, and the minute she’d left her parents’ house in Albany to make the hour drive back to Scarlet Falls, her true crime research had flashed right back into her mind and unsettled her stomach.

Chewing an antacid, she mulled over her stunning discovery. The implications of what she’d learned further stirred the black beans and rice in her belly. As a journalist, her job was to seek the truth, not play judge or jury. But should she choose to pursue and publish this truth, other people could pay the price for her revelation—possibly with their lives.

Her new book proposal was overdue, but Olivia’s predicament felt like a no-win situation. Ignoring the truth went against all her principles. Then again, so did putting other people in danger.

But how much risk was involved? Could she live with being responsible for even a single innocent person’s death?

Obsessing about her research had translated into three consecutive nights of insomnia. Enough was enough. She didn’t need to make this decision alone. What she needed was outside perspective. She brought the antacids with her into the bedroom, picked up her phone from the nightstand, and checked the time. Eleven o’clock. She sent a CALL ME IF UR UP text message to Lincoln Sharp, her . . .

The word boyfriend seemed silly at their ages. She was forty-eight. Lincoln was fifty-three. They’d been dating for several months, and they spent the night together once or twice a week. She assumed their relationship was exclusive, although they hadn’t specifically discussed it.

Labels weren’t important to either of them, but when she saw him or he called unexpectedly, the stirrings of excitement and joy in her blood made her feel like a teenager. Beyond her attraction to him, she respected him both personally and professionally.

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