No More Chances Paperback
no more chances paperback

No More Chances (Paperback)

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BOOK 2 OF THE CALLOW AND OAKLEY FBI THRILLER SERIES.

A ritualistic killer. A sleepy town...and zero suspects…

The FBI’s top criminal profiler Genevieve Callow needs a job in FBI that doesn’t require her to race against the clock.

A quieter life seems possible, until a hike in the woods around the town of Roxobel leads to the discovery of a victim’s body covered in runes on a bloody altar.

Local law enforcement is outmatched, under equipped, and the people are terrified. There’s evidence more rituals are soon to come …

But Callow and her team are the first on scene and are immediately assigned to the case. 

Now, her short reprieve is interrupted by a cunning, calculated, sadistic killer who knows exactly who she is. 

The townsfolk are dependent on Callow to solve this case before the bodies pile up, because the killer has made one thing clear …

He is far from finished …

Paperback 318 pages
Dimensions 5 x 0.8 x 8 inches
ISBN 979-8986239057
Publication date October 25, 2023
Publisher The Nightmare Engine

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Chapter 1

Callow’s sunglasses did little to protect her eyes from the sun’s onslaught. She felt exposed, her bathing suit a relic from her closet, the fit too tight in all the wrong places. She’d struggled putting it on and, beyond irritated, she’d had one leg in her trusty jeans when Marcus had pushed his way into her bedroom.
Taking in the denim, he’d said, “That’s not how you vacation.” And that had been enough.
Callow now wore a black bikini, a floral print beach cover overtop, and sandals. A wide-brimmed summer hat replaced her standard issue ball cap, completing the look. Nothing about her said FBI, and even the bruises on her neck were too faded to notice without a keen eye.
Now, toes firmly in the sand, sun baking her face, Callow felt exposed—and it was good.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was a hubbub of action and raucous jubilee. Sweat rolled down her arms. A youth shouted as he swiped at a frisbee thrown by his partner somewhere down the shore break. A gaggle of seagulls scattered from a retriever living its best life while three college-aged girls in string bikinis watched the commotion from the safety of a beach umbrella.
All was good. Callow was finally taking a real vacation.
“Only you could look tense on a beach, Jen,” Marcus teased from a twin chair just to her right. “Last time I checked, we’re off the clock.”
Callow basked in her partner’s smooth, rich bass. She didn’t open an eye, but she felt his gaze fixed upon her—as she’d hoped it would be. She liked it when he looked at her.
“We’re never off the clock,” she replied, reiterating the curse of law enforcement employees everywhere. “Which is why I don’t like not having my gun. It feels weird—like I’m incomplete.”
“I figured you’d have found a place to stash it.”
“I tried,” Callow joked. “No place in this suit. The car was the closest I got.”
“The suit fits well.”
“It’s tight.”
“It’s supposed to be tight,” he countered.
Marcus paused, then took a deep breath, and Callow immediately sensed he was about to shift the conversation to something serious. Something that required the counter setting of a breezy beach and sandy toes to counteract being bogged down by memories or morose thoughts.
“How do you feel now, Jen?”
Such a simple question, yet Callow’s heart still thumped  a little harder under the weight of his words, just to remind her that she was human. Marcus was circling back to his earlier suggestion about starting a new chapter of their lives, which they’d discussed on the drive from Quantico to South Carolina. He’d successfully tried to monopolize the lack of escape during the car journey to get Callow to open up about where her head was at, but she’d responded with a near-perfect masterclass in avoidance tactics. In Callow’s eyes, a wall of silence was preferable to the hurt she would cause by being forced to say something she couldn’t take back.
Marcus had been right to suggest she take a little time-out, but Callow hadn’t counted on how much baggage he was planning to take with them when she agreed to it.
So much for getting away from it all.
Their superiors at the Bureau had approved their hard-earned vacation after all the necessary reports had been filed and their most recent case with the Icebox Killer had been thoroughly wrapped up. Icebox had made a full confession, as per the agreement he’d put on the table to speak with Callow in private. Case closed.
But that’s not entirely true, is it, Jennifer? Callow could still hear some of the last words Icebox had said to her, ringing and ringing like a distant church bell.
Icebox had murdered Callow’s best friend, Carmen—and that was a wound no amount of looking to the future was ever going to heal.
Callow repeated what Edwin Hodge had said to her from the hospital bed she had put him in a month prior.
“‘You cannot exist without me, and I shall exist to counter you. This is the burden we bear. Good and evil. Light and dark. And we will always be so very alone.’”
Callow opened her eyes slowly, then snapped them shut. Tears instantly formed, but no pressure built behind her nose and eyes and her lip didn’t quiver. She recognized the emotion as relief, not fear or sorrow—relief that that particular chapter of her life was over.
But even after the case had officially been brought to a close and the file had been delivered to the records division in the basement—something Callow had done personally—she still listened to Hodge’s voice on a little tape recorder on occasion, trying to make sense of it all. The chapter had ended, but Callow had folded the corner of the page, just in case …
“Come on, Jenny, don’t do this to yourself. Those words are just the insane ramblings of an insane mind. You know how it goes—they all have to justify it. Reality must be warped and bent to match their desires. No man of moral conscience or reason could do the things he did. Don’t get caught up inside your own head.”
“Easier said than …”
“Hodge is right where you left him—behind bars. He might be alone, but you’re not. Never forget, Jenny: we play by the rules. They break them.”
Marcus’s sage words were enough for Callow to want to open her eyes, and when she did, a single tear rolled down her cheek and melded with the sweat beading on either side of her nose. Her eyes scanned an empty beach chair, then she saw Marcus padding through the sand toward the ocean. He’d left her at the right time, knowing she would prefer to think it all through without the ticking clock beating down on her back. She was safe to think here. But the drive back tomorrow and an inevitable new case ticking away like a countdown clock would be waiting.
Callow adjusted her seat and sipped from a water bottle, eyeing Marcus from afar. The girls under the shade umbrella whispered amongst themselves as he strode by.
Callow smiled. Not a chance.
Marcus stopped to pet the retriever, who shook sea water off in a dazzling display. The dog rolled onto its back as he rubbed its belly.
The dog’s owner—a tall, wiry man, laughably pale and with a weak chin—looked like a scarecrow in comparison to Marcus. The two men talked for a moment, and Callow shamelessly stared at Marcus as he and the scarecrow came up the beach together. Marcus ignored the girls, and Callow relished their sneers as they turned to see who he was approaching.
He stooped and she planted a kiss on his cheek, nibbled his ear once, then giggled.
“You have admirers,” she whispered in his ear.
“They remind me of the gulls.”
Callow let Marcus go and addressed the skinny fellow as his dog squeezed under Marcus’s chair for shade.
Callow shaded her brow with her hand. “He’s going to stink on the road back, Wainwright. And the Bureau is going to be pissed when they see the back seat is full of sand.”
Kurt Wainwright was Callow’s new trainee, and the junior investigator had been shadowing her for a couple of months now. Hired for his intellect, he’d become a valuable ally since their turbulent introduction on the Icebox case.
Wainwright ran his hand through his matted hair—brown, young, still full and lively. He had yet to succumb to the job.
Callow felt he would grow into his own. His incessant need to prove himself aside, Wainwright was a brain, and he sometimes saw things differently than she and the others did. His insight offered balance, and Jedediah Gold—the assistant special agent in charge of Callow’s team—had been right to pick him.
Wainwright plopped down next to Marcus’s chair. “Sand from the dog or sand from us―what’s the difference?”
“What’s his name again―Sammy or something?” Marcus asked.
“Samson―because of the hair.”
“Brave choice, buddy. Samson lost his strength when the Philistines cut his hair, and he was killed shortly after.”
“A bit dark for the beach, Oakley.”
“You named him …”
Wainwright peered out across the sand. “The women like him.”
“Girls, Kurt. Those are girls,” Callow snickered. “Is there someplace to wash Samson? His fur will mat with the salt water.”
“I saw a faucet and some public showers near the pier on the way in, and I’ll wash him in the hotel bath tonight, too.” He paused. “You’re both terrible liars, by the way.”
Callow turned and sipped from her water mischievously. “Oh? Do tell.”
Wainwright buried his feet in the sand. Callow instinctively did the same, the sand cool against her skin.
“You said this was a vacation. Like hell it is.” Wainwright smiled mischievously.  “I hate to break it to you, but stopping off at two field offices on the way down here doesn’t count as ‘time away from the office.’ You said you were just checking in to see what it’s like further down the coast, but I talked to the agents there—you were auditing the physical security of the building.”
Callow raised an eyebrow. “So?”
“So, our little vacation is really an assignment for you senior special agents to claim some overtime. You’re many things, but you’re not sly, Callow. This is a job, even if you piggyback a few vacation days onto the tail end of it.”
Wainwright wasn’t wrong; she and Marcus had been scoping out the Raleigh and Fayetteville offices, but there was more to the story than the overtime. They had been considering transferring out of the Behavior Analysis Unit to one of the field offices for a change of pace. Leaving the FBI altogether had come up in conversation, too, but neither had been serious about the suggestion. A transfer was a much more palatable idea to entertain.
“So, what’s your idea of a vacation then, Kurt?”
Wainwright shuffled through a bag and handed Marcus a cigar, who sniffed it deeply. He then offered it to Callow, who made a face.
“Vacations aren’t crowded beaches with capitalized names. A vacation is where you bring your phone, but where you are is so secluded that you might as well have left it at home. A vacation is an open firepit. Tents, fishing poles, and hiking. This? This is a boondoggle.”
He resumed petting the dog, who had closed his eyes and settled. Marcus took a straight cutter from Wainwright and cut the end of the cigar then took paper matches from him as well. Soon, the scent of burnt tobacco hung on the air. It smelled pleasant, freeing, compared to the sour air from day-old cigarettes in stuffy war rooms the three FBI agents were more familiar with.
“I’ll tell you what,” Callow offered placatingly. “We’ll stay an extra day. No guarantee on the tents, but we’ll find a state park to hike.”
Wainwright looked his cigar over, as if it was about to give its approval, then leaned back on his elbows. Callow counted his ribs.
“I’ll send Jedediah a text,” Marcus volunteered.
“Don’t. Let’s just be late. He asked if I was going to quit when he saw the leave form. I reassured him that if I was about to quit, I’d have dumped the several weeks I have stashed, not just a few days, and I definitely wouldn’t volunteer for a six-hour road trip down the east coast.”
“You’ll be in violation of policy, Jenny,” Wainwright said glibly. “Since when does the FBI’s top criminal profiler break the rules?”
“Shut up, Kurt. Jedediah can sweat a little. I’m still a bit pissed he made me secondary on the Icebox case. Kennedy really fucked that one up.”
“Kennedy was doing the best with what he had,” Wainwright countered. “Have you talked to the guy? Jedediah was breathing down his neck the whole time. The top brass were sending nasty emails about case progress and Kennedy was having to reply to Jedediah with status updates all through the night. He got micromanaged into oblivion. Be glad you were secondary.”
Callow imagined being woken by the constant chime of her work phone throughout the night; the same familiar jingle she had come to associate with bad news. The chime was the equivalent of a jump scare in a horror movie.
As senior special agent in the BAU, it was also Callow’s duty to keep an eye on her team. She made a pact to call Kennedy on the return drive. A “thank you” could go a long way toward rejuvenating someone’s soul, especially when it came to caseload. She’d had no idea Kennedy had been under so much scrutiny. In fact, there had been more than a few times she’d run roughshod into Jedediah’s office to tell him exactly how she’d felt about his decisions. She realized then it was part of the privilege of her position, something others didn’t have the rank or Jedediah’s earned respect, to do.
“I had no idea. I’ll call him,” Callow said humbly.
“I told him you would,” Wainwright replied. “But he said not to bother. He burned more than a few vacation days and said if his work phone goes off, he’ll probably use it for target practice. I think he’s still torn up about the Icebox case.”
“Fair enough.”
Callow let the conversation hang. She was no longer sweating, and the sun seemed beaten back, the heat dropping enough to notice. A breeze came with it, laden with cooler temperatures and the crisp sea air. Time seemed to move differently on the beach, and the rare, warm spring day was coming to a close. Tomorrow, the three agents would drive back to what they knew—a fresh page, a new chapter. A new case.
Carmen had loved the beach, and it was a perfect place to lay her memory to rest.
Case closed, Carm. I hope I did you justice.


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