From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Gemma Halliday, comes Play Nice, her most thrilling novel yet!
She faked her death to escape life as an assassin. But now her enemies have tracked her down, and this time they want her to stay dead.
Anya Danielovich was an assassin in her former life. But that was a long time ago. Today she's just Anna Smith--a single, thirtysomething woman living in San Francisco with a simple desire to lead a better life. But she's still haunted by her past--the people she killed, the mentor she betrayed, the woman she was. She's taken care to cover her tracks, but she's beginning to feel like she's being watched...
Nick Dade is a hired gunman--the best of the best. He's read Anya's file and, after weeks of surveillance, he's ready to pull the trigger...until someone else beats him to the punch. With his agenda shattered, Nick suddenly finds himself thrown together with the woman he's been sent to eliminate. Who is she really? Who hired the second hit? And who can he trust? Together Nick and Anna find themselves embroiled in a web of deceit and desire as an unknown enemy closes in. To unravel the truth, Anna must face her past even if that means risking both Nick's life and her own.
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March 13, 2012
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Excerpt from Play Nice by Gemma Halliday
"Jesus, would you just do it already?"
Anna shivered, shifting her umbrella to the other hand, her teeth rattling together. Rain fell in fat droplets around her, splashing back on the cuffs of her jeans as she stood on the small square of lawn, shifting from foot to foot. She could feel mud squishing into the grooves of her running shoes and cringed. She'd have to carry them up the stairs unless she wanted her landlord bitching about muddy footprints again. In one hand she held the umbrella, in the other a leash connected to a stubborn-as-hell boxer who was currently being very particular about where he did his business. Anna thought for a moment he might have chosen his sweet spot when he paused to sniff at the azalea bushes flanking her apartment building. But no. He turned up his black nose and continued pacing in the rain. Anna had a sneaking suspicion he was enjoying this.
"Come on, Lenny," she pleaded.
Lenny looked up, trained his black eyes on her, cocked his head to the side. Then went back to his pacing.
Anna narrowed her eyes at the jerk.
Originally he'd come to the shelter from a family who'd been moving to Chicago and couldn't take a dog with them. They'd promised he was an excellent watchdog and very companionable. The companion part he'd proven right away. She could hardly walk two steps in her tiny apartment without running into him. The watchdog part had turned out to be the biggest joke she'd ever heard. Lenny's deep baritone bark was impressive, but he was more likely to lick an intruder to death than attack. Still, half the idea of a watchdog was for show, so she hadn't had the heart to unload him on someone else.
She just wished he'd show a little more cooperation.
"Please, Lenny. I'm cold, I'm wet. I'll give you three bacon treats if you just pick a spot and take the shit. What do you say?"
He ignored her completely, sniffing the flowerbeds along the walkway.
Anna wiped a raindrop from her cheek, wrapping one arm around herself to stave off the chill. Normally she didn't mind the rain so much. She loved the smell of water hitting the oil-stained streets, the crisp color of the San Francisco sky that it left behind when the clouds parted. Almost as if the entire city were being washed clean, given a fresh start.
But tonight she wasn't a fan. The rain cut down on her visibility, left her feeling too exposed standing out in the open.
Her gaze swept the street. The dim glow of streetlamps bathed the neighborhood in pale yellow hues, rows of old Victorians lining the block of narrow, three-story buildings painted every color of the rainbow over the years. They banked right up against each other, one after another, trailing down the hill toward the bay. Across the street were a used bookstore, an Asian market, and an all-night Laundromat. Only the Laundromat's lights were on at this time of night, a sole occupant visible inside, reading a book as he waited for his clothes to finish. It wasn't a particularly busy street for San Francisco, one of the things Anna had liked about it when she'd first moved in, but it was close to the park and Muni, and the rent was relatively cheap.
And her landlord hadn't asked any questions when she'd installed a state-of-the-art security system.
Anna tore her gaze away from the street, focusing again on her stubborn partner.
"I swear to God if you don't do it now, you're holding it until morning," she threatened.
Lenny walked over to the azaleas and, miracle of miracles, this time squatted down. Anna said a silent thank you, pulling a plastic baggie out of her pocket. She waited until he'd finished, then transferred the leash and umbrella into one hand as she crouched down to pick up Lenny's offering with the other.
But the rain must have made her grip on the leash slippery. Because as she bent over, Lenny gave a tug on the end, and the leather slid out of her hand, the umbrella falling to the ground, rain immediately pelting her as she lost her balance in the muddy grass.
"Goddammit, Lenny," she shouted, throwing one hand out to break her fall. She slid forward, mud streaking down the side of her jeans as she lunged for the dog. He'd taken off like a shot into the dark evening, bounding down the rain-soaked sidewalk.
"Lenny!" she called, her cries immediately swallowed up by the storm.
Abandoning the baggie, she grabbed her umbrella, useless now that she was soaked to the bone, and picked her way back over the square of lawn, hitting the sidewalk just in time to see him shoot across the street into the Laundromat.
"That's it," she muttered to herself. "No bacon treats for you, asshole."
Reluctantly she set off after him, crossing the street. As she pushed through the glass doors of the Laundromat, warm, humid air immediately hit her like a blanket. She scrubbed her wet hair out of her face, scanning the room for the dog.
He had the sole occupant of the room backed up into a corner, his book held up like a shield as Lenny tattooed his clothes with muddy paw prints.
"Lenny," she yelled, "get down."
Which, of course, he ignored, completely enamored with new-person scents.
Anna crossed the room, her wet shoes squishing with every step, and grabbed the end of his leash from the floor. She gave a sharp tug. "Down. Now," she commanded again.
This time he complied, letting his captive go as he took a step back to sniff a box of detergent on the floor instead.
"Sorry," she said to the man.
He was tall, at least six feet, lean with broad shoulders beneath a cotton shirt, unbuttoned at the top. His jeans were worn at the knees, his shoes dry, indicating he'd been inside for a while. His hair was a warm chestnut color, curling a little at his neck, just slightly longer than current fashion would dictate. His eyes were a deep brown, so dark, she noticed, that they were almost black. He had a square jaw, a day past needing a good shave, and his build was tight, all angles, like an athlete's.
He lowered his book as Lenny stepped away, the corners of his mouth tilting upward.
"No problem. I only peed myself a little," he joked.
Anna felt an answering smile. "I swear he looks more vicious than he is."
"I'll take your word for that." He slowly sidestepped the dog. "I've always been more of a cat person, myself."
"Well, on a night like tonight, I don't blame you." She looked down at her jeans. It would take an act of God to get those grass stains out.
The man reached into a plastic laundry basket and pulled out a towel, tossing it to Anna.
"Here. You look like you've been swimming."
"Nearly," she said, gratefully drying her face. "Thanks, but you know I'm just going back out in it."
"Nick." The man stuck his hand out at her. "Nick Dade."
Anna looked at it for a minute. Then gingerly took it. "Anna."
His grip was firm, strong, his skin a little rough as if he worked with his hands regularly. Definitely confident, but careful not to hold on too long.
"Smith. Anna Smith."
"Hmmm." He crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back on his heels. "Smith. Very mysterious."
Anna laughed. "No, very plain."
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Anna Smith. You live around here?" he asked, gesturing to the windows.
Anna paused, bit the inside of her cheek.
Don't talk to strangers.
She nodded slowly. "Yes."
"It's a nice place. Quiet at night."
"It is. I like it."
"The architecture's amazing. I love all the old buildings. It's incredible to me that so many have survived not one, but two major earthquakes."
Anna nodded, running the towel over her hair, trying to squeeze out the bulk of the rainwater. "That's one of the reasons I moved here," she agreed.
Anna looked up. "What?"
"Where did you move from?"
Don't talk to strangers. Don't get personal.
Anna looked away, turning her eyes to Lenny, still circling the detergent box.
"Oh, I've lived all over. I'm a bit of a nomad. What about you? Local?"
He shook his head. "No, I'm just visiting a friend in town. Thinking of relocating, though. It's a fun city. You lived here long?"
Anna shrugged. "Long enough, I guess."
"Long enough to know a place for good Chinese?" He took a step toward her.
Without meaning to, she took one backward.
"In San Francisco? You'd have a hard time finding bad Chinese."
He laughed, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "Come on, you must have a favorite?"
"Okay, if I had to pick one, I'd say the Shaolin Palace. Down the street a couple of blocks. They deliver twenty-four hours."
"Oh, definitely my kind of place."
A dryer dinged behind him, signaling the end of the cycle.
"Well, I guess I'll let you get back to your laundry," Anna said. She dropped the towel on the counter and tugged Lenny toward the door. Having ascertained the detergent box didn't contain anything edible, he complied.
"Wait," Nick said, taking a step forward. "Are you busy tomorrow night? Maybe you could walk me through the Shaolin Palace's menu, huh?"
Anna chewed on her cheek again.
Don't get personal.