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Simon Says Die -- Lena Diaz

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Available NOW from Avon Impulse®, SIMON SAYS DIE…

An FBI agent must save his former lover from a stalker, while the ‘Simon Says Die’ killer stalks Savannah, Georgia

Simon says: I’m watching. Simon says: I’m coming. Simon says: Die.

Madison McKinley knows someone is stalking her. The police tell her she’s imagining things, and they’re too busy trying to find the “Simon Says” killer to investigate. But day by day, hour by hour, Madison’s terror grows stronger, and not even the return of FBI Special Agent Pierce Buchanan into her life can calm her fears. Besides, how can she ask Pierce for his help after the way she ended things between them?

Pierce still wants Madison’s love, and his drive to protect her is more powerful than ever. He believes she’s in danger, even if the cops don’t. Finally, as more people start dying and the evidence mounts, the police turn their attention to Madison—as a suspect. Was Pierce a fool to trust her again, or are they both caught in a complex game that neither will survive?

Read Reviews | Read Excerpt

reviews

Here’s what reviewers are saying about Simon Says Die…

“SIMON SAYS DIE by Lena Diaz is a gripping romance thriller that will have you hooked from the first words. The suspense-filled yet reaffirming romance that emerges from a tension-filled beginning will easily carry you through to the climactic end of SIMON and then make you smile with a touching and sweet epilogue. I highly recommend reading SIMON SAYS DIE by Lena Diaz…”
– Amy Valentini from UnwrappingRomance.blogspot.com

5 of 5 stars

“I really, really enjoyed this book…”
“It begins with a bang (literally) and just takes off from there…”
“The suspense part of the plot had me unable to put the book down.”
– Kerrie Strong from Goodreads

Simon Says Die is a finalist in the NATIONAL EXCELLENCE IN ROMANCE FICTION AWARDS!

NERFA Finalist

excerpt

Prologue

Fear has a smell—sharp, tangy, with a biting edge—like sweat, but more intimate, more powerful and addictive than any drug.

Simon was an addict, and it had been too long, far too long, since he’d had his last fix.

That was about to change.

He stood by the computer desk and picked up the pile of paper from the printer. He ran his finger down the profile of the woman in the photograph on the first page, across the pale skin of her arms, the upper swells of her breasts. Her dark hair was silky, shiny, barely brushing her shoulders. Laughter filled her deep blue eyes, crinkling them at the corners. Who was she thinking about when she smiled that way? Someone she cared about? Someone who cared about her?

“Simon, was there anything else you wanted me to print?”

His gaze slid reluctantly from the photograph to the blonde, slightly overweight woman sitting at the computer. Her muddy brown eyes were framed with makeup she probably hadn’t worn in years. Her dress was bright yellow, new. She must have looked forward to tonight all week, thinking he’d invited himself to her house to finally take the next step, to become her lover.

He was definitely ready to take the next step.

Her hands hovered over the keyboard as she looked at him expectantly.

“No, I have what I want.” He set the pictures back down. “You’re sure no one will be able to tell you hacked into those Web sites?”

She grinned. “I didn’t have to hack in after all. I just created a fake profile and got some of them to friend me. From there it was easy to get access to the others, and all their information.”

Stupid woman. “Erase the profile.”

Her grin faded. “What’s wrong?”

At her wary look, he forced himself to relax and give her a smile meant to charm and reassure. “I don’t want them to know. Not yet. What’s the fun of a practical joke if they find out too soon, right?”

Her smile returned, but it wasn’t as bright as before. “Um, right.”

He closely watched her this time, as she undid everything she’d done, deleting her profile from the site.

When she was finished, she pushed back her chair and stood to face him. “You’ve made me curious. What kind of joke are you going to play?”

“Curiosity can get you in trouble, my dear.”

She gave a little laugh. “What, like curiosity killed the cat?”

He cocked his head to the side. “Actually, I was thinking more of something a bit . . . different. Have you ever played the game Simon says?”

“Simon says?” She gave another laugh–a nervous laugh. “A child’s game. Isn’t that a bit silly for adults?”

“Not the way I play.” His voice was deep, seductive.

He edged behind her and she half-turned, looking up at him. Her body tensed as her subconscious began to sense the danger that her conscious mind wasn’t ready to accept.

He settled his hands on her shoulders.

She jumped and tried to pull away. “Stop that. You’re making me nervous.”

“Hush, now,” he whispered. “That’s not how you play the game. You can’t do anything unless Simon says you can.”

Her swallow was so loud he could hear it. She jerked her head, looking around the room, as if she’d only just realized how alone they were, how vulnerable she was. “Wh—what does Simon say to do?” she croaked, her voice shaky.

He leaned to the side so he could see her face. Like a frightened rabbit, staring into the eyes of the snake that is about to strike, she stood unmoving, paralyzed. He inhaled deeply, briefly closing his eyes, reveling in the scent of fear oozing out of her pores.

Oh, he was going to enjoy this one.

Very much.

He squeezed her shoulder with one hand as he slid his other hand down her spine, delighting in her shiver. He reached behind his back, lifting up the edge of his jacket to pull out his knife.

The poor little rabbit didn’t even try to get away. She stood frozen, her breaths coming out in short little bursts. He tightened his hand on her shoulder.

She shivered again, tensing . . . as if to run.

Too late.

He caressed the cold steel of the knife’s blade behind her, closing his hand around the hilt. Leaning down, closer, he softly pressed his lips against her taut cheek. Some of the fear left her eyes, replaced with a pathetic spark of hope.

“Simon?” Her mouth curved in a tentative smile.

He moved his lips next to her ear. “Simon says . . . die.” He plunged the knife into her back.

Chapter One

FBI Special Agent Pierce Buchanan could think of only a few of his experiences more pathetic than standing on his former lover’s front porch, waiting for her to answer the door. Like having the woman he loved dump him, as he was reaching into his pocket for an engagement ring—the same woman whose porch he was currently standing on.

Yep. Pathetic.

If his best friend hadn’t begged him to check on his kid sister, Pierce sure as hell wouldn’t be here right now.

As he raised his hand to knock on Madison’s door again, a man darted around the corner of the house from the backyard and ran to the road out front. A woman with shoulder-length dark hair ran after him.

Pierce clenched his jaw. No point in knocking again. Madison wasn’t home.

She was chasing a man down the street.

He narrowed his eyes. Was that the bulge of a gun beneath the edge of the man’s jacket? A sinking feeling settled in his stomach. What was she thinking? Was she trying to get herself killed?

He vaulted over the porch railing, landing in a painful crouch on the brick walkway, three feet below. His knees throbbed in protest, an insulting reminder that a thirty-five-year-old agent shouldn’t pull stunts as if he were still a twenty-year-old kid fresh out of the academy.

Madison didn’t react when he shouted a warning about the gun. Either she didn’t hear him, or she was too stubborn to listen.

He’d put his money on stubborn.

His GTO was parked down the street. His 9mm was in the glove box. But the car was in the opposite direction from where Madison was running.

Too far away. Not enough time.

He blew out a frustrated breath and took off across Madison’s front lawn. Fifty yards ahead, she raced up one of the manicured paths of Savannah’s Forsyth Park after the man with the gun.

A bright blue trolley was unloading tourists. They scrambled out of Madison’s way like a gaggle of geese, honking their displeasure as she and her prey disappeared behind some trees.

Pierce shouted an apology as he vaulted over an elderly couple sitting on a bench. The sky erupted in a haze of gray and white as a flock of pigeons flew up in front of him. He waved his arms to ward them off, and he barreled through the same tourists Madison had scattered only moments before. He threw back another apology and sprinted down the path where Madison had disappeared.

Panic shot through him when he rounded a clump of oak trees, only to see an empty, winter-brown field spread out before him. Unbidden, an image flashed through his mind—Madison’s tiny body, broken and bleeding, riddled with bullets. The thought of a world without the sexy little smart-ass sent a sharp jolt of pain knifing straight to his heart.

Much to his disgust.

He slowed to a jog, steeling himself against the curious stares of the people walking down the paths. It was a safe bet they hadn’t expected to see someone in a business suit sprinting through the park. It certainly wasn’t what he had planned when he’d gotten up this morning.

A faint shout sounded from behind a row of two-stories on the opposite side of the field. He took off toward the sound, emerging onto the street behind the houses in time to see Madison and the man she was chasing disappear down another side street.

Pierce veered down a parallel road, hoping the shortcut would help him catch up to Madison before she caught up to the gunman. Near the end of the block, he raced down a cross street and tore in between two houses, emerging onto a narrow road several yards ahead of Madison.

His relief was short-lived when Madison stumbled to a halt, her face draining of color. But she wasn’t staring at him. She was staring off to his right, over his shoulder.

He whirled around. The man Madison had been chasing wasn’t running anymore. He was standing in the middle of the street, his face hidden in the shadows beneath his hooded denim jacket.

Pointing a gun at Madison.

That sinking feeling twisted Pierce’s gut again. Today of all days, why couldn’t he have worn his Kevlar vest?

Pathetic.

He lunged in front of Madison just as the gun went off.

* * *

Madison stood outside the ambulance, watching Pierce lying inside on a gurney, while an EMT pressed a white piece of gauze against his chest. The gauze came away bright red, and Madison’s breath caught at the sight. She clutched her hand to her own chest, and swallowed past the tightness in her throat. Thank God the bullet had gone clean through his side without hitting anything vital.

What was he thinking to risk his life like that—for her? And what was he doing in Georgia in the first place? He should have been safe at home in Jacksonville instead of playing hero.

Her stomach rebelled when the EMT pressed a fresh piece of gauze against the jagged flesh. She held her hand against her mouth, willing the nausea away. Blood had never bothered her before, but this was Pierce. The thought of him hurt—especially because of her—made her stomach churn.

Like a horror movie, the shooting played through her mind in slow motion—the deep-throated boom of the gun, the high-pitched whistle of the bullet, the sickening thud as Pierce fell to the ground.

His brow furrowed. “You okay?”

“How can you possibly be worried about me? You’re the one who got shot.”

An amused smile flashed across his face.

“This isn’t the least bit funny,” Madison said. “Why weren’t you wearing a vest? You’re an FBI agent, for goodness’ sake. You should always wear your vest. You shouldn’t . . . you shouldn’t . . . you just . . .” she sputtered into silence.

“I never thought I’d see you speechless. And I didn’t realize seeing you again would be so dangerous. Next time, I’ll wear body armor.”

“Stop treating this like a joke. You could have been killed.”

His smile faded and he gave her a puzzled look. “I’m okay. Stop beating yourself up.”

She clenched her hands and looked past him to the red and blue lights flashing on the police cars behind the ambulance. Lieutenant Hamilton stood with three uniformed officers, talking in low tones next to one of the cars. Even though he’d already taken Madison’s statement, the lieutenant’s suspicious gaze never wavered from her as he spoke to his men.

When she’d answered his questions a few minutes ago, he hadn’t believed her any more than when he’d questioned her earlier in the week. She’d been telling him the truth before.

But not now.

He wouldn’t believe her if she told him the truth. She wasn’t sure she believed it herself. The gunman couldn’t be who she thought he was. It wasn’t possible.

Was it?

She turned back toward Pierce, just as the EMT pressed a piece of tape over the bandage across his right side. Pierce’s lips whitened.

“That must really hurt,” Madison said.

“It’s just a scratch.”

“It’s a bit worse than that, Special Agent Buchanan.” The EMT helped Pierce into a sitting position then began to bind his chest with white gauze. “You’ve got a couple of busted ribs.”

Madison’s stomach clenched again. This wouldn’t be the first time Pierce had broken a rib, or even the first time he’d been shot. His body was covered with battle scars from his years in law enforcement tracking down the worst kinds of violent offenders.

She’d tried to coax him to tell her how he’d gotten all his injuries, however, getting him to talk about himself was about as easy as getting her mother to ignore a sale at Macy’s.

When her gaze traveled past his short dark hair, her pulse began to race for an entirely new reason. She mentally glided down the path her fingertips had traced so many times—over his hard bare chest, across the ripples of his stomach muscles, to the top of his waistband. Unwelcome heat flashed through her.

She raised her gaze and saw the same heat reflected back in his whisky-colored eyes. She sucked in a breath and looked away, only then noticing that the EMT had stopped his work and was glancing curiously between them. Madison returned his stare until his neck turned red, his fingers fumbling with the gauze.

Pierce grinned and shook his head.

That familiar, sexy smile sent a sharp jolt of longing through Madison. Her belly tightened as a memory teased her senses—that same sexy smile curving his lips as he bent over her in bed, the last time they’d made love.

“Aren’t you cold?” Frustration added a sharp edge to her voice. She was tempted to grab the blanket lying beside him and toss it over all those hard planes and muscles. “You should cover up.”

“That would make it hard for the EMT to bandage my ribs, don’t you think?”

The teasing note in his voice told her he realized the effect his near-nakedness was having on her, the same effect it had always had on her.

And he was enjoying it.

She forced herself to look at his face. “What are you doing in Savannah? Why did you run after me?”

“So, you did know I was following you. Did you hear me shout a warning about the gun too?”

Her face flushed with heat. “I heard someone yell something behind me, but I wasn’t sure what they’d said.”

His brows rose in obvious disbelief.

“I’m not reckless.” She hated that she felt the need to explain her actions. “If I’d known he was armed, I wouldn’t have chased him.”

Not until she’d gone back inside her house and grabbed a gun.

“You’re not reckless? Did it occur to you that the man you were chasing could be the killer who’s been in the papers? The one who’s killed two women so far, leaving ‘Simon says die’ notes on their bodies?”

Her faced flushed even hotter. “Honestly, no, it didn’t.” Admitting that, out loud, wasn’t doing much for her pride or her sour mood. “Stop changing the subject. Why are you here?”

“Why were you chasing that man?” he countered.

She waved her hand toward the patrol cars. “I already told Lieutenant Hamilton. That man was trespassing on my property. I went outside to confront him, and he took off. I didn’t think—I just reacted—and took off after him.”

“Why didn’t you call nine-one-one?”

“I did,” she snapped. “The first time I saw someone watching me. And the second time. And the third. But that man is always gone by the time the police bother to arrive.”

His eyes widened. “This is the fourth time you’ve seen him watching you? And you thought it was a good idea to chase him?” He swore and shook his head. “Why didn’t you tell Logan you had a stalker when you called him this morning?”

She went very still. “How did you know I spoke to him this morning?”

He glanced uneasily at the EMT before answering. “He called me, said you sounded upset, distracted. He asked me to check on you.”

“Ha. Check up on me you mean,” she said, crossing her arms. Honeymoon or not, her brother was going to get an earful about this. She should have known better than to call him. But when she’d seen that same man in her backyard again, she’d wanted her police chief brother’s advice. After hearing his voice, how happy he sounded, she couldn’t bring herself to tell him anything that might make him worry. He and Amanda had been through so much. They deserved this happy time together.

A terrible suspicion flashed through her as she thought about what Pierce had just said. “Wait a minute. I talked to Logan less than an hour ago. Jacksonville is at least three hours away. Are you in town on a case?”

He didn’t look like he wanted to answer. The tiny lines at the edges of his eyes crinkled and his mouth hardened into a flat line. “I don’t live in Florida anymore. I live here now.”

Her breath left her in a rush.

Pierce lived in the same city she did.

That thought pounded at her like a drumbeat, as though a hand were squeezing her heart and pressing against her lungs.

It shouldn’t matter.

It shouldn’t matter that he lived so close. It shouldn’t matter that she could run into him at the grocery store, or pass him on the street. It shouldn’t matter that she could reach out right now and run her fingers across his golden skin.

It shouldn’t matter, none of it.

But, damn it, it did.

She cleared her throat, twice, before she trusted her voice again. “How long have you been here?”

The EMT flicked a glance at her and set the gauze down. “You can lower your arms now, Agent Buchanan.”

Pierce eased his arms down, watching her with a wary expression on his face. “A couple of months.”

Two months? He hadn’t bothered to mention that he’d moved when he’d seen her at her brother’s wedding. She hadn’t told him she’d moved either, but then, she’d had no desire to talk to him since he was so busy with the ridiculously young, beautiful redhead he’d brought as his date.

She’d probably missed her curfew to hang out with him at the wedding reception.

But Logan must have known that Pierce had moved to Savannah. Pierce was like the brother Logan had never had, especially after everything they’d been through last year saving Amanda from a serial killer. And he wouldn’t have asked Pierce to check on her if Pierce was hours away in Jacksonville.

“Logan knows you live here, doesn’t he?” She didn’t bother to wait for his reply. She already knew the answer. “He should have told me, before he talked me into buying a house here. You should have told me.”

“What difference would it have made if you’d known?” he asked. His brows drew down in a dark slash. “Would you have run away again?”

She blinked at his well-aimed barb and took a step back. She wished she could step back from the truth just as easily. He was right. She had run away from him.

But not for the reason she’d told him.

“Mrs. McKinley?” a voice called out from behind her.

Startled, she whirled around, and stumbled against the curb.

“Whoa, there.” The policeman who’d spoken to her grabbed her elbow, steadying her. “Are you okay, ma’am?”

She grimaced when she put some weight on her ankle.

“Let’s have the EMT check that.”

“No, no, I’m fine.”

The policeman gave her a skeptical look. “If you’re sure, I’m supposed to escort you to the station. Lieutenant Hamilton wants to question you some more. And you’ll have more privacy away from this crowd.” He nodded toward the curious onlookers behind the police line. “Is there someone you want me to call to meet you there? Your husband?”

“There’s no one to call. My family doesn’t live around here. And my husband is . . . dead.”

Madison tried to put weight on her bad ankle again, but as soon as she did, a sharp pain shot up her leg and she had to grab the policeman’s arm for support.

“Get into the ambulance, Madison.” Pierce scooted over on the gurney to make room. “The police can question you later.”

She hesitated. She didn’t want to be secluded in the back of the ambulance with Pierce, especially a curious Pierce who might barrage her with questions all the way to the hospital.

Then again, she could use the opportunity to try to convince him not to tell Logan what had happened. If the gunman was who she thought he was, the life she’d tried to build for the past year and a half was about to come crashing down. She needed some time to figure out what to do and how to protect her family.

She took a wobbly step forward and grabbed one of the metal handles by the ambulance door.

The EMT opened his mouth as if to protest, but promptly closed it when Madison stared at him in challenge. She hauled herself inside and plopped down on the bench across from Pierce. The EMT spoke through the glass window to the other EMT driving the ambulance, then pulled one of the doors shut.

“Just a minute,” the policemen called out, stopping him before he could close the other door. “Agent Buchanan, the lieutenant wanted me to let you know that he called your boss, like you asked. Agent Matthews said he’ll meet you at the hospital with your fiancée.”

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