One Tough Avenger
Silhouette Romantic Suspense
March 2007
ISBN-10: 0-373-27567-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-373-27567-0


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A man without a past

Mitchell Connor had no idea why he’d been beaten and left for dead. Just that a brown-eyed angel had rescued him and vowed to help. He felt beyond saving. And yet, a simmering anger propelled him to find his family’s killer. Beautiful lawyer Shannon Coyle challenged him with her resolve to fight for the justice he desperately wanted. As his feelings for her grew to a fever pitch, so did the passion between them. But when their search led them to a murderous cult, Mitch was determined that his vengeance wouldn’t cost him the woman he loved.

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Shannon Coyle was in a hurry.  The truth was, Shannon Coyle was pretty much always in a hurry.  She’d been born that way, according to family lore.  Exited her mother’s uterus early, walked early, talked early, skipped a grade in school, made it through college in three years and law school in two.  It was just the way it was—some had an excess of energy, not to mention brains, and she was one of them.

Right now, Shannon was hurrying along Pacific Avenue, barely aware of the typical early morning dusting of coastal fog, on her way to open up the doors of The Last House on the Block, the small storefront she’d founded two years earlier.  It offered legal and other services to the indigent and the powerless, and her position as its sole full-time lawyer carried a lot of responsibility with it.

And did she need to play catch-up this morning!  She’d taken three days off—totally unlike her—for a family celebration up in Santa Barbara.  Now here it was, six-thirty on Tuesday morning, and she was at least a day behind.  She made a mental list as she hurried along: two petitions to file with the court, investigations to get underway, a new summer intern to supervise.  Her heels produced a click-click-click noise along the sidewalk as she made a beeline for the doorway, her key poised to unlock the top bolt.  But just short of the door, she stopped, her attention grabbed by what looked like a bundle of rags several storefronts further along, partly on the pavement, partly on the curb.  No, she realized as she hurried quickly toward it, not a bundle of rags.  A person.  Most likely a homeless person.

A dead homeless person?

Setting her bag and briefcase down next to the body, which was facedown, she reached over to place two fingers on the side of his neck.  Good, she thought with relief, there was a pulse.  A weak one, but at least he wasn’t dead.  When she pulled her hand away, she noted the blood on her palm.  Now she saw what she had failed to observe right away—reddish-brown stains on the ground near his head.  Matted hair covered his face, but she pulled several strands away and observed more bruising on his bearded face.

With a start, Shannon realized that—even in profile—she recognized him.  It was the Man with the Haunted Eyes, as she’d come to think of him.  The homeless guy she passed every morning on her beachfront jog as he sat on the same bench and watched the sun rise over the Pacific.  He wore ragged clothing and both his hair and beard were black, streaked with silver.  From the first time she’d seen him—a couple of weeks ago?—something about him called to her.  Two or three times, she’d stopped and tried to talk to him.  Always, he answered in grunts.  He never smiled, was always guarded.

But oh, his eyes!  A pale silver-gray, nearly translucent.  Beautiful eyes, really, and intelligence shone from them.  But also filled with more pain than she could imagine feeling and still wanting to live.  Shannon had tried to get him to talk about himself, but he pretty much shut the door on her efforts, so she’d stopped trying.  Some of the homeless were beyond wanting their lives to be any different than they were, that she’d learned from experience, so it was useless to continue.

She hadn’t seen the Man with the Haunted Eyes since Friday morning, and now here he was, beaten nearly to death.  Probably by some gang bangers having a little “fun,” or by a drunk whose secret rage grew with each shot of cheap whiskey, or even another street person fighting over turf—a shopping cart or small sleeping corner.  Tamping down her own anger at the injustice of it all, she shook her head instead as she withdrew a sani-wipe from a package she kept in her purse and cleaned her hands with it.  How she wished she could wave a wand and make all the violent and cruel, greedy and selfish people in the world go away . . . to an island or another planet.  But as she couldn’t do that, she could do the next best thing—be an advocate for their victims.

She pulled a cell phone out of her purse and dialed 911. 


Where he was it was dark.  So dark.  Blackness swirled and whirled around him like a living being.  Where was the sun?  He wanted the sun, but it was denied to him.  Which was only what he deserved.

Help me, Daddy.

Night then, pitch black, no stars, no moon.  And cold.  God, but he was cold!  Every part of him was shivering.  He was alone and cold in the swirling night with nothing to cover him.  No, wait . . . there it was, the sun.  A strange sun, not round but longer, and barely visible behind a purple-gray mist.  And not warm.

Not his usual sunrise, not over his usual ocean.

Help me, Daddy.

Had he traveled to outer space?  Or his grave?

He heard someone groan.  Was it him?  It seemed to come from far away.  The groan again.  Yes, it was his throat that made the noise.

Help me, Daddy.

No, he begged the voice silently.  Please, no more.  Was there nowhere he could go to escape the voice?

Pain ripped through him.  The sun—the light, whatever—got brighter.  Bad pain, lots of it.  That was good—it meant he was alive.  Or was it good?  Wouldn’t he be better off not being alive, not feeling, not hearing the voice?

Help me, Daddy.

Another loud groan propelled him up through the gray mist, fighting up to consciousness.  His eyelids felt swollen shut, but he managed to raise them enough to see a long rectangular fluorescent light fixture overhead.  He was in a hallway of some sort.  Shivering, he heard other voices murmuring, crying, more groans, not his.  He closed his eyes again.  Pain.  It hurt to breathe.  Shifting his head slightly—not too far; it also hurt to move—he forced his eyes open again.

There were others around, bodies in some sort of hallway.  A hospital hallway? his fevered brain wondered…or the entrance to the afterlife?  He tried to raise his head but searing pain made it fall back again.  Better just stay still, he decided.  He became aware of more pain, different kinds, not just in his head and neck.  His back.  His ribs.  His wrist.  It hurt to breathe.

Then…if he was breathing, he must be alive.  More groans.  From him, from others?  He closed his eyes, returned to the dark.

Help me, Daddy.


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