Book Title: Afterlife of Alanna Miller
Author: Demelza Carlton Genre: Romantic Suspense
Release Date: January 2015
Hosted by: Book Enthusiast Promotions
Five years ago, Nathan's world came crashing down. The witness protection program stole the woman he loved and now he's lost everything - including hope that she's still alive. His security job is a daily reminder of the girl he failed to protect, dragging him deeper into despair.
Forced to assume the identity of a dead girl, Caitlin struggles to rise from the ruins of the life she lost. A career change summons her home, but Perth isn't the safe haven it seems. Someone is hunting her - one of her kidnappers, a long-lost relative or another terrorist with an axe to grind?
When nightmares from their past threaten to engulf Nathan and Caitlin, can a broken hero and a girl living another woman's afterlife finally fight their way free?
A tiny taste of what's in store:
"I know something you won't miss about Melbourne," Jo said as she peered through the window.
The packing tape made a tortured sound as I used it to seal another box. "What? The ever-changing weather?" I scrawled BOOKS across the top of the box with my marker, then decided to label the sides, too.
"No. The commute to uni. Squeezed into a packed train carriage with all those crazed commuters, forcing yourself not to freak out at the sheer number of strangers touching you...I've seen your face on the train. It's like you're trying not to scream."
I smiled wanly. Trying not to stab someone, actually. Five years and my skin still crawled if anyone touched me. Maybe I should have become a nun, not a doctor. No, I wouldn't be allowed to carry a knife everywhere if I were a nun. Plus, there was the matter of having killed people..."I'll be able to walk to work now. I told you that apartment next to the hospital was a good investment."
She stuck her tongue out. "I'm an accountant, not an investment adviser. But I still think you should've rented it out this year, before you moved in. Six months' rent is a lot of money to throw away..."
It wasn't about the money. It was about having my own space, brand new, that no one else had lived in or done things in. A place without a past so I could create my own future there. Of course I picked Perth. After so much time away, I wanted to go home. With a new name, a new career and a whole new life...but it was home. Someone else's afterlife...haunting the place where I'd nearly died. It was fitting. Every time I looked at St Elsie's Hospital next door, I'd remember my time there as a patient and hopefully have more sympathy for my patients. Or go to pieces and be admitted to the psychiatric ward.
No, I told myself. I was prepared to go back and face any demons that I hadn't slaughtered in the past. Given they were probably on their last legs after their last encounter with me, it'd be an act of mercy to put them out of their misery. Euthanasia, even, though that wasn't legal in Western Australia.
A blurry hand waved before my eyes. "Hello? Are you even listening to me?"
I shook my head. "Sorry, Jo. I should have been."
"I hope you introduce me to him soon, because any man who can make you daydream that deeply has to be drool-worthy. I want to know his name, his bank balance and how many times in a night."
"How many…?" My eyes widened as her hands eloquently described fast-paced sex. "None, Jo. If I'd slept with a man, I'd have told you."
She sighed, the deep sort that said her heart ached for me. "It's been five years. No one can go that long without wanting sex. I know you got hurt, but I know you slept with that sleazy guy in Perth, which means you're hardly afraid of intimacy if you let him touch you. Now, I know you're not pining away for him, so why haven't you even flirted with anyone else?"
Because I don't want anyone to touch me. And when the man who's saved your life several times over, risked his own life and his sanity, plus killed for you and stayed at your side until you recovered, believes he's not good enough for you, you start to believe that no one will be. Why would I settle for a one-night stand with someone who wouldn't kill for me?
Six years ago, I'd have told Jo all of this, but now I couldn't. After what happened, some stories were best left untold. And I'm not sure she'd look at me the same way if she knew about the people I'd killed, Even if they did deserve it.
"I haven't met the right one," I replied curtly. "I'm looking for a hero who's not just Prince Charming."
Jo grinned. "A knight in shining armour and awe-inspiring sword skills?" Her hands described the size and nature of his sword.
"A knight, maybe, but with dented armour and maybe scorch marks up the side, to show he's taken on an army and he'd walk through fire for me. A sword with a few nicks in it, so I know it's not just for show. And later, when we're alone, he'd take it all off and he'd make me feel like I was his whole world."
She burst out laughing. "So, you're after Sir Perfect with experience? Men like that don't exist. You might get some of it, but not everything. Just as long as you don't settle for some sleazy bastard who fools you into thinking he's perfect, I guess."
This is the final book in the Nightmares Trilogy, which includes:
• Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer (#1))
• Necessary Evil of Nathan Miller (#2)
• Afterlife of Alanna Miller (#3)
"Seriously, what the hell is this, mate?"
Navid swallowed his huge mouthful of pie. "What do you mean?"
"This!" I shook the letter at him. "Is ASIO trying to buy my silence or what?"
Navid took the letter, held it at arm's length and squinted at it. Looked like he needed reading glasses. Was he really getting that old? He passed the paper back to me. "It's not a bad sum for not telling a story you're not going to talk about anyway. I'd take it and book a nice holiday with it, if I were single like you. You could spend a month touring in the US or Europe for that, including flights."
"But I can't take a holiday if you need me as a witness in the inquiry. Have they finally set a date yet? It's weird, getting offered money for silence before the hearings. Is this because there'll be press coverage on the inquiry into that bastard Mott? And they want to make sure we won't talk to the press?"
Navid stared at something in the distance. "No, no one's set a date for the inquiry."
"So why now?" I persisted. "Why are they throwing money at me? It's Caitlin they have to worry about, and this is nowhere near as much money as the TV stations or magazines offer. I don't see her agreeing to take ten grand to keep quiet. Not when she can get a hundred times that for an exclusive."
Navid coughed. "I think they'll be offering her a lot more than that. After all, she's the one who almost died."
"So it's not just hush money? It's compensation for damages suffered and…all the other shit it says in the letter? What about my sister? What about Alanna? Did she get a posthumous payout, too? And a hypocritical letter saying the department deeply regrets her kidnapping, rape, torture and death, but here's some money to make it feel better? Shit, if Caitlin's letter says that, expect fireworks." My heart ached at just the sound of her name. I'd give anything to see her explode. I'd know she was alive and okay, wherever she was.
He lowered his voice. "If they can find her. There's a rumour in the department that all the documents in her file are gone. Papers, digital, recordings of statements…everything, just gone. And the details of her witness protection arrangements, too, so that means she's disappeared."
I stared at him in shock, silence money forgotten. "You don't know where she is? She could be dead or hurt or God knows what! You have to find her! She'll need to give evidence at the inquiry, too. I mean, she nearly died because of him." And I'd get to see her if she came for the inquiry, even if I had to camp outside the building. I'd know she was alive and okay, even if only for a moment. "Ask him where she is. He'll know."
"She was never going to be part of the inquiry. She didn't have any contact with him beforehand and her statements will be enough, or they would have been, if we could find them. Now, I don't even know if there'll be an inquiry at all." He sighed and lobbed his empty pie bag into the nearest bin.
I stopped dead. "What do you mean, no inquiry? I get paid off to shut up while that dickhead gets off scot-free? Fuck that."
Navid sighed. "The justice system isn't geared toward punishing dead people."
"Yeah, which leaves Mott, seeing as everyone else is dead. Wait, hang on…are you saying he's dead, too?" My mouth hung open. "Who killed him? Whoever did it's a legend and I owe him a carton of beer. I've wanted to do it for years!"
Navid coughed out a laugh. "Then you owe Mott a carton of beer, because the official report says he killed himself. With an ornamental dagger, no less. Bit melodramatic, if you ask me."
I found myself shaking my head. "That can't be right. Mott was a mean bastard. He'd never do the world a favour and off himself. And if he did, he'd take people with him, or at least set someone up for his murder, so he could laugh all the way to hell. Who do you suspect?"
Navid shrugged. "Well, how many people hated him? It could be anyone."
Caitlin was good with a knife, I thought idly, not willing to believe it was her. If anyone deserved to be on the point of her blade, it was him. His negligence…his indifference to what she might suffer had almost gotten her killed.
"Look, I got to get back to work. They've got Michael and me looking for her. One girl in twenty million people, if she's even still in the country. The guys in Canberra want this whole affair over and done with as quickly as possible, so we got pulled off other projects to look for a girl who doesn't want to be found." He laughed, but sobered quickly. "Hey, she never mentioned anything to you, did she? About where she was headed, or the new name she'd be using? I remember the day Mott told her about the arrangements. She was really pissed off about them. Wish I'd asked her then."
I shook my head. "If she'd told me anything, I'd have given in and started hunting for her long before now. I'd change my name and go into hiding, too, if I had to." His words started to sink in. "Hang on. She never met Mott. He visited her in hospital when she was unconscious, but never afterwards. I'd never have let that bastard anywhere near her!"
He wouldn't meet my eyes. "She spoke to me privately when you weren't around, requesting a meeting with your superior. I made the arrangements and I drove her to the office and home again for both meetings. She spotted some inconsistencies in what he said, and told me she suspected he was corrupt. I dismissed it at first, figuring she was just a teenage kid with on overactive imagination, but some of the things she said rang some pretty loud alarm bells. Then I started to see him make mistakes, too. It took me four years to get enough evidence together to warrant an enquiry, and now he's dead, so we'll never know why he did it, or what else he knew." He laughed quietly. "I wonder if she knew. I'd love to ask her now."
I hesitated, then ploughed ahead anyway. "If you find her, can you tell me? I just want to know that she's okay. It's killing me, not knowing."
He shook his head and wouldn't meet my eyes. "Nathan, you know I can't do that. She's in witness protection for a reason, even if the official five years are up and she can let up on the secrecy now. She's not the sort to go splashing her photo on every social media channel she can find just because she can." He inhaled sharply, considering. "I'll tell you what. If we do find her and I get a chance to speak to her, I'll tell her that you wanted to know she was okay, and that you'd love to talk to her, but only if that's what she wants. It's not like you offered to go into hiding with her."
"I would have if she'd asked me, or even wanted me," I whispered, more to myself than to him.
Demelza Carlton has always loved the ocean, but on her first snorkelling trip she found she was afraid of fish.
She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers and stood on spray-drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.
Sensationalist spin? No - Demelza tends to take a camera with her so she can capture and share the moment later; shipwrecks, sharks and all.
Demelza now lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark attack capital of the world.
The Ocean's Gift series was her first foray into fiction, followed by the Nightmares trilogy. She swears the Mel Goes to Hell series ambushed her on a crowded train and wouldn't leave her alone.