a  just  reckoning

by published author Joan Merriam

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Darkness dwells within even the best of us.

In the worst of us, darkness not only dwells but reigns.
                                                           

- Dean Koontz, "Strange Highways"

about the book...

Slicing into the poisonous underbelly of the global sex trade, prize-winning investigative journalist Tess Alexander finds herself catapulted into an unspeakable world that she barely knew existed. It also puts a target on her back.

 

Driven by a tragedy in her own past to hunt down and expose the worst of human corruption and brutality, this isn’t the first time Tess’s work has put her in danger—but this new investigation puts her in far worse peril than anything she’s faced before. It begins after she meets Katia Voitenko, who as a small child living along the Black Sea coast of Crimea was kidnapped and sold into decades of sex slavery. Hearing Katia’s appalling story, Tess becomes determined to unmask the ruthless sociopaths behind the international sex trafficking ring that enslaved the young woman.  

 

Her search for the ringleaders behind the conspiracy drives her thousands of miles from the safety of her northern California home to the streets and alleyways of Ukraine, Crimea, and Great Britain.

 

During the course of her investigation—and with the help of a collection of characters that includes a Ukrainian revolutionary, an officer with London’s Metropolitan Police Department, and one of the leaders of a transnational organization dedicated to rescuing victims of the sex trade—Tess uncovers the sinister extent of the trafficking operation, and almost pays with her life.

excerpt . . .

It began with an awkward tugging at her right arm. She turned her head, and was astonished to see a bright crimson splotch growing just below her shoulder blade. Too red. Too much red.  An instant later she was catapulted into full awareness by a screaming, white-hot pain.

She heard a strangled cry, and realized it was her own.  Descending slowly into shock, she stared as the trees around her swayed in an eerie dance, snarled and tangled together like knotted coils of serpents.

And then a cannonball hit her solar plexus. At least, it felt like a cannonball in the scrambled web of her consciousness as she quietly and almost gracefully collapsed on the forest floor.

In those last few seconds of consciousness as she looked up and tried to focus, a dark shadow materialized, mutating into the shape of a man hovering above her. His face, its surface gaunt and crevassed with moon-like craters, appeared to be streaked with soot as he stared into Tess’s eyes. His own eyes, as acute and black as obsidian, were utterly barren of emotion.  Contemplating the mortally wounded woman, now lying in a swelling pool of blood, his razor-thin lips curved into a tiny smirk of triumph.

“It is finished,” he whispered.  He held a semiautomatic Sig Sauer tactical rifle, a silencer twisted onto its 18-inch ashen barrel.

He raised it to Tess’s head as she slipped into the blackness.