Harlequin Publishing Corp.

Romantic suspense

October 2023

ISBN-10: 1250839068

ISBN-13: 978-1250839060

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Down to the Wire: Touré Security Group, Book 1

Reunited by danger …

… and racing against the clock

On the trail of a hacker, IT security expert Malachi Touré finds…a woman from his past he’s never gotten over.Dr. Grace Blackwell is no hacker. She’s a medical researcher, and someone has stolen a potentially deadly formula from her computer. Despite the still-simmering attraction between them, Mal is wary of trusting her again. Then everything changes when a killer has Grace in their sights…

Down to the Wire: Excerpt

Malachi logged out of the system. He grabbed his dark gray sports coat from the back of his chair and Bernadine Cecile’s book from the shelf above his desk. On his way out, he paused at Jeremiah’s office. “I need you and Zeke.” He didn’t respond to the concerned frown that settled on his younger brother’s chiseled features. Instead, he crossed over to Hezekiah’s office. He addressed both men. “The hacker’s asked to meet in thirty minutes.”

Hezekiah looked up from his computer. His thick black eyebrows rose. “That was quick.”

Malachi held up a hand. “They found me.”

Hezekiah frowned, exchanging a look with Jeremiah. “Where’s the meet?”

“Cakes and Caffeine Coffee Shop on Old Henderson.” Malachi shrugged into his jacket. He only had thirty minutes, and it was a fifteen-minute drive from their office.

“I’ll come with you.” Jeremiah started to return to his office, probably for his coat.

Malachi caught his upper arm. “I’m supposed to go alone.”

Jeremiah held his eyes. “Screw that. We can sit at separate tables.”

Malachi felt a smile curve his lips. “I don’t think the hacker will miss the family resemblance.” Looking at Hezekiah and Jeremiah was like looking into a mirror, except Jeremiah still had a full head of tight, dark curls. He and Hezekiah had shaved their heads a couple of years ago. Male-pattern baldness wasn’t a joke. Malachi felt Jeremiah’s bicep tighten under his palm. He let his hand fall away.

Jeremiah’s features stiffened. “You’re not going into this without backup.”

“I agree with Jerry.” Hezekiah stood behind his desk. “Come on, Mal. This person hacked a defense contractor. Who knows what they’re capable of, how many of them are involved? Who knows anything about them? Your plan was to track the hacker and turn the information over to the client, not to confront them.”

“New plan.” Malachi checked his watch. He was running short on time. “You know where I’ll be and when. I’ll text when I get there. It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.”

He didn’t wait for their response. Malachi jogged down the three winding flights of stairs and across the polished gray concrete flooring of the black-and-silver lobby. He pushed through the front glass doors into the parking lot and got into his black four-door SUV.

Malachi exited the lot and merged with traffic, nudging the engine of his car a bit above the speed limit. He wanted to get to the coffee shop before the hacker. That way, he could survey the customers to see whether the hacker had brought backup. He could also select a seat that allowed him to monitor the full space. But for all he knew, the hacker had been sending messages from the café. He had to be aware of all possibilities. He couldn’t walk in unprepared.

The scent of fresh coffee and warm, sweet pastries struck Malachi as he entered the shop. He adjusted his hardcover copy of Bernadine Cecile’s book, holding it in his right hand so the cover was visible.

The café was full, a testament to its popularity. He did a thorough scan of the room as he strolled to the counter to order a coffee, his third of the day. Sunlight poured in through lightly tinted windows set into the stark chalk-white walls. A stone fireplace stood in the center of the dark hardwood flooring. A handful of retirees were curled up on fluffy armchairs beside it, reading books or newspapers while nursing hot drinks.

Scarlet-and-gray booth seating lined the café’s perimeter. Cushioned gray armchairs and cozy dark wood tables were positioned around the room. Several customers occupying those booths and tables were working on laptops. Some were working alone. A few groups seemed to be collaborating. None of the patrons appeared to be waiting for anyone. No one seemed to be looking at him. Then what was causing that prickling sensation along his spine?

He paid for his coffee, then filled the porcelain mug at the self-serve station. The uncomfortable feeling got stronger. He chose a booth bench in a corner of the room close to the rear exit, which gave him a clear view of the space and a quick out. Pulling his cell phone from his jacket pocket, he sent a text to Hezekiah and Jeremiah: Arrived. Waiting.

He tucked his phone back into his pocket. Placing the book face up on the edge of the table, he picked up his coffee.

“Mal?” The scents of roses and powder had preceded the soft, hesitant, feminine voice. Their familiarity stopped his breathing and clouded his mind.

He shifted on the gray cushioned bench to look behind him. Shock surged through him like an electric current. He wanted to stand, but his legs ignored him. He tried to speak, but his voice wouldn’t work.

Grace Blackwell.

Seeing her standing in the archway that led to the café’s restrooms, his body reacted as though they hadn’t been apart for four long, miserable years. She could’ve stepped out of the dream that was never far from his mind. Maybe he was having it now. He took in her pale silver scoop-neck polyester blouse and slim black slacks. A lime-and-black knapsack hung from her right shoulder. Her dark brown hair was longer and gathered into a ponytail. That was different. Her face and figure were slimmer. There was an air of tension around her that hadn’t been there four years ago.

“Grace.” His body stiffened as he waited for her to disappear. She didn’t. “What are you doing here?”

Her long-lidded cinnamon eyes dropped to the book on the table. She lifted it for a closer look before holding up the cover for him to see. “I’m meeting you.”

His thoughts scattered to the wind. “You’re the hacker?”