Ready or Not, Grave Intentions, Book 2
Dr. Tesla Brynn is beginning her psychiatry practice in a new state and city, closer to family. When she calls her niece to plan their Fourth of July weekend, her world shatters. Her terrified niece tells her a masked stranger is texting her photos labeled Ready or Not from inside the house. Tes can do nothing but listen to her niece’s screams as the line dies.
Ready or Not…
Asher Hickok lost his will to live the day his daughter was kidnapped. Seven weeks of hell and counting. With dead-end leads and no ransom demands, the only hope Asher has in finding his daughter is if the kidnapper chooses another victim. What he’s not prepared for is that the next victim to be his daughter’s best friend.
Here I Come…
Tes and Asher’s worlds collide, forging allies as they desperately search for their loved ones. Together, they’ll use every resource available, including a supernatural gift Tes’ kept secret her whole life. Asher has his own secrets he’d like to keep hidden. Can this unlikely pair learn to trust each other, accept their differences, and find their family before it’s too late?
Warning: This book is intended for mature audiences only; sexually explicit sex scenes
READY OR NOT – SNEAK PEEK
Friday, July 3rd
Simple, stressless life straight ahead.
One decade and thousands of hours later, Dr. Tesla Brynn was a full-blown psychiatrist with one interview at Overlake Hospital under her belt. She could finally start living a “normal” life. Sure, she still needed to work on obtaining her specialty license in child psychiatry, but for now that was on the back burner until she was gainfully employed. Giddy didn’t begin to explain the overwhelming joy surging through her veins.
She opened the back door of her Honda Civic and instructed her trained emotional therapy dog and partner, Ruthie, “Up.” Her rescued golden retriever-lab mix jumped onto the backseat and waited for Tes to buckle her in. Ruthie was instrumental in helping children talk about their issues and grief.
She’d moved to Washington last weekend to be closer to her sister and niece. Maybe this time her sister would let her be a part of her life, bury the hatchet, and forget the incident that severed their relationship. No one needed to know about Tes’s past. She’d do anything to have a chance with her family again.
It was also her first weekend without schoolwork. Free time? Tes couldn’t remember the last time she’d kicked back and relaxed. Once she programmed her GPS to return to her sister’s house and cleared the hospital’s parking garage, she dialed her niece using the car’s hands-free option. Her sister Nikki was out of town and had entrusted Tes to watch her only child. Well, at fifteen, Morgan was hardly a child anymore. “Hey, Peanut, how do you want to start our motherless binge? Ice cream for dinner? Pizza? Friends over? Name it. We are going to party like it’s 1999.” She cringed. “Was that too dorky?”
“Aunt Tes?” Morgan sucked in a slobbery phlegm-coated breath that blasted through the car’s speakers.
“What’s wrong, honey?” Tes’s muscles tensed.
She didn’t think Morgan had a boyfriend to cause her distress. Maybe they’d found the remains of Morgan’s best friend who’d gone missing on Mother’s Day weekend. Everyone believed she was dead after vanishing without a trace on a sunny Friday afternoon. Like today.
“Someone’s in the house.”
“Come again?” She had to have heard her wrong.
“A guy’s sending me selfies taken from inside the house. They’re tagged ‘Ready or Not’.”
“Where are you?”
“In my room.”
“Did you lock the front door? Set the alarm?”
“The front door’s locked, but I didn’t set the alarm. I was waiting for you to come—” She drew in a shaky breath. “Home.”
Tes signaled, glancing over her shoulder before pressing the gas pedal to merge onto I-405 and promptly came to a stop. On a non rush hour day, she was thirty minutes away. Shit. Today it’d take longer. “You did the right thing, Morgan. It’s okay. I’m trying to figure out how they could have gotten into the house. Can you forward me the text messages?”
“I tried. I can’t. My phone’s frozen. I couldn’t call out, but I could accept your call.”
Someone was messing with her niece? “Lock your bedroom door. Put your desk chair under the door handle. It’ll buy you time to get out your bedroom window.”
“I already locked my bedroom door. Aunt Tes?” Her voice inched higher with each syllable. “I’m scared.”
“I know, honey. You’re going to be fine.” Tes glanced in her rearview mirror. Hopefully, it was just some sick bastard trying to scare the bejesus out of her. It was working. “Come on, Morgan, you can do this.”
Tes heard shuffling on the phone. “Now get to the window—open it.” She swallowed, bracing her heart for what she needed to say next. “You’re going to have to jump.” In her mind, she pictured Morgan lowering her petite frame over the window’s ledge and falling into the mulberry bushes below. Did mulberry bushes have thorns? Thorns were the least of her worries. A broken leg would be much worse. Morgan couldn’t outrun an intruder with a broken leg. Tes’s shoulders inched up closer to her ears as she gripped the steering wheel tighter.
“It won’t open.”
“What do you mean it won’t open?”
“I don’t know. It won’t slide open.” Morgan grunted. “Let me try the other one.” The pause stretched for eons.
Tes slammed on her turn signal and cut off a driver in the next lane, jockeying closer to the commuter lane.
“It’s like they’re glued shut.”
“Don’t panic.” Ironic, since she was failing to keep calm. “Unlock the window first.”
Teary sobs filled the car’s speakers. “I did,” she whined.
Not believing in Morgan wasn’t helping. She was a smart kid. “I’m sorry, honey. I’m trying to cover our bases here.” Think. How much time did she have? “Break the window.”
“My hands feel funny.” No doubt adrenaline had flooded Morgan’s system.
“Take slow deep breaths in, and slowly blow out.” Damn bumper-to-bumper traffic. How hard was it to push on the pedal to the right? “I’m on my way. I know you’re scared, but I’m with you. I’m going to conference in 911. No matter what, don’t hang up. Okay? If we’re disconnected, I’ll call back. You’re not alone, Morgan.”
Through blurred tears, Tes pressed the buttons.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“My niece is home alone…” Tes relayed Morgan’s information and the address where her sister lived, then clicked the “conference” button. “Morgan? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m here.” Morgan’s phone chimed, indicating she’d received a new text message. She gasped. “He’s outside my bedroom door!”
“Morgan, I’m sending officers now.” The operator clicked keys in the background. “Stay on the line.”
White, gray, and black vehicles blurred by Tes’s peripheral vision as she pulled into the HOV lane and gunned the engine, whizzing past the crawling cars to her right. She didn’t care if she got a ticket. She’d welcome a police officer. Hell, bring on the cavalry.
“Aunt Tes. I love you,” Morgan whispered.
Resignation. “I love you too, Peanut. You’re strong. You’re smart.”
Morgan gasped. “The closet door’s opening.” A high-pitched scream blared across the line.
“What?” Tes’s breath stalled.
Morgan shouted, “He’s got a gun!”
The dispatcher broke in. “Describe him.”
“Tall.” Shuffling. “Get away from me!” Morgan’s blood-curdling scream filled the interior of Tes’s car. Ruthie whined from the backseat. “Blue. Goggles.”
What was happening?
“Hang up the phone…or die,” a deep digital vibrato synthesizer voice said.
Gooseflesh broke out over Tes’s entire body. She leaned forward as if she could teleport herself through her wireless connection into Morgan’s bedroom. “I’ll find you, Morgan. I love you.” Tears streaked Tes’s face. “Hang up. Help is on its way. And girl—you fight. Fight for your life.”
The line went dead.
Not one moment had passed that Asher Hickok didn’t think about his kidnapped daughter, Hailey. Months later with no ransom demand and no new leads on the kidnapper, Asher started working again, though he didn’t feel like it. Working for his father at Hickok Construction afforded him leniency when his life went to shit. Every day he fought the urge to withdraw from society, curl into a ball, and shut out the world. He hated being strong in the face of adversity. It was a bunch of bullshit and psychobabble from professionals who’d never walked through his hell.
Losing Hailey not only wounded his soul, but it’d also demolished his will to live. Morgan McKinley was the one person on earth who gave him enough will to carry on. She was not only Hailey’s best friend, but his greatest secret. His second daughter who, thankfully, had woven seamlessly into his family’s fabric since his two daughters had met in kindergarten. A court order forbade him from telling her he was her father. Few people knew but him and her birth mother—a woman who had more power and money backing her than he could ever hope for. Staying silent wasn’t easy. In a few years, when Morgan turned eighteen, there wouldn’t be anything stopping him from telling her the truth.
“Have a happy Fourth.” Asher waved to the last few workers who’d helped him lock up the construction site. They’d wrapped up things early for the holiday weekend. His dad had already dropped by and passed out steaks for their team. It was a Hickok family tradition to give their workers food before holidays.
He pulled out his dead cell phone from his pocket before getting behind the truck’s wheel. After the diesel engine roared to life, he plugged his phone into the charger and waited for there to be enough power to see if he’d missed any important messages.
Morgan was bringing her aunt Tes to the family barbecue tomorrow to celebrate the Fourth of July with the Hickok clan. Tes had given Morgan advice to pass along to him following Hailey’s disappearance. He was looking forward to meeting and thanking her for trying to give him comfort while she finished school. He thought about taking her out to dinner as a thank-you, but that might seem like a date.
God, he hadn’t dated in forever. How could he enjoy life when Hailey was out there alone, afraid, and held captive? Or worse, lying cold and dead in an unmarked grave?
Tears stung the back of his eyes. How he missed his baby girl. He’d won custody of Hailey when she was two years old. His ex-girlfriend had visitation one weekend a month and ninety percent of the time she’d failed to follow through in keeping Hailey for an entire weekend.
He’d dropped Hailey off on Friday before Mother’s Day to spend some “quality” time with her mother, Linda. It had come as no surprise that she’d decided to head out of town with the boyfriend du jour, leaving Hailey home alone.
That was when it happened.
Asher had immediately called Hailey after he’d gotten the text message from Linda. “Hey, honey, I’m coming to get you. Your mom decided to go out of town this weekend.”
“Dad? There’s someone in the house.”
His hackles had risen and Dad mode shifted into high gear. He’d pulled a U-turn in the middle of traffic and gunned the engine, narrowly missing a delivery truck.
Hailey’s cries still haunted his dreams. She’d said she felt strange and couldn’t move. He remembered her saying she was getting text messages of a man in a blue hoodie from inside the house and him saying, “Ready or not.”
She’d opened the closet door to hide inside.
The digitized voice said, “Hello, Hailey. Are you ready?” The digitized laughter that followed, still jolted him awake from his nightmares.
Then Hailey screamed. The last memory etched on Asher’s brain for eternity. He wasn’t there to protect her or rip her kidnapper limb from limb. If he ever got his hands on the bastard, he was going to kill him. He knew exactly where he’d bury the body parts so no one could find them.
Numbness filled the days that followed. With each new dead-end lead, he became more and more protective of Morgan. He’d cloned her phone and made sure she wasn’t harassed by anyone sending her text messages tagged, “Ready or not.”
His gut told him Hailey wasn’t the kidnapper’s first victim, and he vowed Morgan would never be one of his victims. Not as long as he drew breath.
4 out of 5 stars Fast and Gripping Read
This book was a wild ride! There was constant action and plot twists to keep the pages flying. I LOVED the hero Asher, what a wonderful guy! Yes, he made poor choices in life-but totally owned up to them. Loves and adores his family especially his daughters, what great dad! Has his mind blown when he meets heroine Tes. Even though her true nature freaks him the hell out, his gentle ways and pure love brings her out of her self-imposed shell and she blossoms like a rose! I love the connection between her and Joni-and I’m so happy to see more of her & Zeke from the first book. I gave this book four stars because I detest demons, hate reading about how gross they are, and the action at the end was pretty intense and I kept struggling to follow it. Also, some parts pushed the limits of my suspension of disbelief. Did I mention I detest demons? Yeah, I did. Still a great read!
5 out of 5 stars A real page turner full of plot twists and excitement.
Great book full of action. Aedyn Brooks definitely has the haunted romance down pat. This book has demons but strong hernoines who will fight them. It’s full of action and is a real page turner. Hold onto your book, ’cause ‘Ready or Not’, it’s going to be a wild ride!
5 out of 5 stars Fantastic
Another fantastic, riveting read by Aedyn. Intriguing, emotional, and the perfect steam. Already anticipating the next installment.
4 out of 5 stars ~ Reviewer
Ready or Not, Grave Intentions is the type of book I’d normally walk away from because I am too vain to allow myself to read a thriller or a romance. For good reason – they are addictive. This one is particularly fast-paced & juicy.
Aedyn Brooks has crafted a page-turner with many twists & turns. It’s a little steamy & a lot of fun. I very much enjoyed this read & found it hard to put down. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author.