ONE STEP AFTER ANOTHER
The After Another Trilogy, book #1
Publication Date: September 14, 2020
Genres: Adult, Romantic Suspense, Crime Thriller, Organized Crime
He finds the unfindable, but she’s terribly good at hiding …
Penny Dunsworth is dead.
Well, she should be—a piece of her certainly is. The broken girl she once was no longer exists. Now a trained assassin for The League, she’s turned into the worst nightmare for the monsters who once haunted her every waking moment. She has to be … it’s the only way to keep her past safe. That is if she can keep it from catching up.
Luca Puzza is chasing a ghost.
He’s never once been able to catch her in the five years that he spent searching. Until now. The promise he made to find the girl who disappeared without a trace turned into an obsession that changed his life. But the woman he was looking for is only a shadow of who he finds. She’s dangerous … for his heart and life, and so are the secrets she’s protecting.
One can only play with monsters for so long before they start to notice you’re not the same. In this world, predators can just as easily become prey.
Except she stopped being a victim long ago.
And it’s time for this to end.
Note: One Step After Another is book one of the After Another trilogy following the same couple over a journey that takes them from present, to past, to future. The books should be read in order. The trilogy discusses triggering topics that may be uncomfortable for some. Please be advised and read at your own discretion.
IVORY and sugar pine danced beneath Penny’s fingertips. The notes that echoed from the keys she played reverberated through the empty, dimly lit room in a compound she hadn’t visited in weeks. That was usually how it worked when she was sent out on a job.
“I know you’re there,” Penny said, never looking away from the white cement bricks that made up the wall where the piano faced. “And you know I hate it when you stand behind me like you intend to—”
“I’m not going to sneak up on you,” Cree replied. “Just enjoying the music.”
Penny rolled her eyes.
Cree would say that, the asshole. The fact was, her handler—one of two at the League whom she answered to—knew her better than anyone. And even though she was supposed to be upstairs briefing Dare, the other asshole in the whole handler equation of her life, on her latest job … the first place she visited when returning was never to him.
Of course, Cree knew.
He knew everything.
“I also know you just rolled your eyes,” Cree added like he could read her mind.
Penny didn’t even bother to glance over her shoulder. She didn’t need to in order to see the image of the large Native man with his glossy black braid falling neatly over his shoulder. Those dark brown-black eyes of his, the same color as molasses, would watch her with an aura of intensity she had become accustomed to over the years. His stare could feel both cold but probing at the same time. The man only needed to look at any one of the assassins he helped train to know the things hidden inside their souls.
It was kind of … fucked up.
“Dare is waiting whenever you’re ready,” Cree said.
“And he’ll wait for whenever you’re done.”
Yes, he would.
“Although, he would rather not wait in this case,” the man added.
Everyone here had come to learn a long time ago that when it came to Penny, it was far easier to get what they wanted by allowing her what she needed.
Nevada was supposed to be home. The place she always came back to again and again—year after year. Job after job. That was the rules she agreed to when she signed up to be trained here. No matter how far away she was sent for her next assignment, she always ended up right back in the Nevada desert inside a building full of people with the same skills as her.
It was a home, of sorts. Homebase for The League, maybe. She much preferred the hotel room that her handlers kept on a tab for her to come and go as she pleased whenever she stayed longer than a day or more in the state before heading off on the next assignment.
For her, she had forgotten what home felt like a long time ago. Before dark rooms, water tanks, knife training, and learning how many ways to kill a person while also memorizing the most effective methods to create poisons from simple ingredients found in a home.
The League didn’t take away the place she called home because she never had one even before she came here. She thought she did—once. Almost. Until the idea of having somewhere to call home meant causing the people who created it for her unimaginable pain.
It was a dangerous thing, hope. The one and only time she had allowed herself any kind of hope for her future it had been ripped away before she even knew what had happened. Partly by her own choice, if she were being honest.
Self-sabotage had long been one of Penny’s favorite pastimes. Back when she still had daily suicidal ideations and a blade that allowed her to feel something other than pain with every cut against her pale skin.
But that time was gone.
And now here she was.
It wasn’t lost on her that despite not being able to consider The League’s compound home—or the hotel she used as an apartment when needed—that she did, in fact, find comfort here. Specifically, the music room deep within the belly of the complex that had only been created after Penny’s arrival.
It just showed up one day.
She didn’t go near it—didn’t breathe within ten feet of it—for the first two years. After all, she had thought that coming to this place meant giving up every part of her that had come before. Including her promising career as a pianist.
Except someone had taught her that the piano always meant pain for her. She hadn’t learned to play for her own peace of mind, or even because she loved the music.
Not until Naz and Roz.
And then The League … well, the piano became a solace in a very dark—
“Does playing when you’re here still take you away from what it all is—can you pretend to be someone else?” Cree asked.
Penny sighed. “Not when someone talks over my shoulder.”
“You’ve not even missed a note. I’m barely bothering you. Don’t deflect. I don’t indulge your sarcasm like everyone else does. Not when I see it for what it is. Another way to protect anyone from getting close enough to your sharp edges where—”
Her fingers slammed down hard on the keys, making deep notes clang through the room and stopping Cree from spouting anymore of his Yoda bullshit. He wouldn’t be wrong. She also just didn’t care to hear it.
Was that so wrong?
Penny swung around on the piano bench to stare at the towering, broad-shouldered man leaning in the doorway to ask, “Is there something you need? Something other than asking questions you already know the answers to?”
“Dare would like an update sooner rather than later.”
“I’m on my way.”
“He did appreciate that you sent over the electronics from the Elijah Smithenson job yesterday when you first arrived, but since you waited an entire day … and you’re in here right now, I’m sure you see where I’m going here.”
“Rushing things along?” she asked.
Cree shrugged. “Is what it is, kiddo.”
Penny scowled at that title. One he’d called her since she first walked through the front doors of this hellish place. “I’m twenty-three.”
“And I’m old enough to have gray instead of black hair, but these genes of mine are determined to keep me young. What is your point?”
“Since when does Dare get you to do his dirty work?” Penny flipped a hand toward the ceiling and the upper levels of the complex where she knew, without a doubt, Dare was currently watching their exchange on one of his many cameras. People couldn’t change who they were—another thing The League taught her—they could only hide who they used to be. “He knows where to find me.”
“You are deflecting,” Cree murmured, “but this time, it’s not about the piano. Just like the piano thing a minute ago wasn’t about the piano, Penny. I get the feeling the job didn’t go exactly as planned, you’re likely aware that we know, and that’s why you don’t want to go upstairs.”
A frown pulled at her lips.
He wasn’t wrong.
“Well?” Cree asked.
She wished she had even a tenth of the percent of information about this man that he knew about her. Or even the guy upstairs. She didn’t even know her handler’s last names; only that they let her kill every monster they could find.
All she knew about Cree and Dare and this place they called home were the things they could do—to her, to people she cared about, and to the ones she hated more than anything.
Everyone had to make choices. She had made hers long ago. Which was why she left the piano bench and headed upstairs to brief Dare. Even if that was the last thing she wanted to do.
I hate reviewing these types of trilogies/duets. There, I said it. This is especially grueling when there is zero I can say to you about the book itself.
So, this is me, struggling for the better part of a week on how to review this book … … … *crickets*
Nevertheless, I have some thoughts I’d like to share. One is, if you think you can zip right thru this story, think again. I like my stories to be true to life so I’m well versed in all kinds of realities, and I couldn’t do it. I’ve been around the block a time or two so I don’t look at life thru rose-colored glasses, and I still couldn’t do it. I need you to hear me when I say that this story lives in the dark shadows of society. This part of the trilogy takes place in today’s timeline and I still couldn’t do it. Why? Because there are moments on the page that are mere recollections for our heroine but for me, it was like BAM and I had to pause. You may be completely different, I don’t know. I just want to be crystal clear in letting you know the warning statement in the synopsis is real.
Another thought I’d like to share is that Bethany-Kris writes ridiculously well. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be inside her head, but it must be glorious. The plot unfolds in a way where even though you kinda know where the story is headed, you are still surprised when it gets there, because it’s never a clear-cut, black/white situation. It can always turn on a dime and you just never know.
I said this in a status update while reading, “This is a lot, and we’ve barely covered the surface. Also, I’m crying like a baby right now of what was, what is, and what I am sure will be … *sigh*” This story is going to rip you apart and hopefully put you back together. It is perverse and vile and deals with the lowest of humanity. But I just finished reading the present and Penny survived an unimaginable childhood and is here to set things right and I can’t wait to read how she triumphs!
Bethany-Kris is a Canadian author, lover of much, and mother to four young sons, one cat, and two dogs. A small town in Eastern Canada where she was born and raised is where she has always called home. With her boys under her feet, snuggling cat, barking dogs, and a hubby calling over his shoulder, she is nearly always writing something … when she can find the time.
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