Outfox Page 1

Author: Sandra Brown

Genres: Romance , Thriller


A cheerless drizzle blurred any view of the body on the beach.

Mist formed halos around the lampposts along the pier, but didn’t diffuse the glaring portable lights that had been put in place by first responders. In a grotesque parody of catching someone in the spotlight on center stage, they shone a harsh light on the covered form.

A police helicopter swept in low. Its searchlight was unforgivingly bright as it tracked the length of the pier. Its beam skittered over the marina where boats rocked in a lulling current that was out of keeping with the surrounding chaos.

Before shifting out onto the surf, the searchlight cut a swath across the corpse. The chopper’s downwash flipped back a corner of the garish yellow plastic sheet to expose a hand, inert and bone-white on the packed sand.

Since the discovery of the body, officers representing several law enforcement agencies had converged on the scene. The colored lights of a search-and-rescue helicopter blinked against the underbelly of low clouds hugging the harbor. Beyond Fort Sumter, a US Coast Guard cruiser plowed through the waters of the Atlantic, its searchlight sweeping across the swells.

TV satellite vans had arrived, disgorging eager reporters and camera crews.

On the pier, the inevitable onlookers had congregated. They vied for the best vantage points from which to gawk at the body, monitor the police and media activity, and take selfies with the draped corpse in the background. They swapped information and speculation.

It was said that the deceased had washed ashore with the evening tide and had been discovered by a man and his young son while they were exercising their chocolate Lab on this stretch of beach.

It was said that drowning was the obvious cause of death.

It was said that it was the result of a boating mishap.

None of these conjectures was correct.

The unleashed Labrador had run ahead of his owner, and it was the dog, splashing in the surf, that had made the gruesome discovery.

One of the spectators on the pier, overhearing the exchanges of facts, fictions, and laments, smiled in self-satisfied silence.

Chapter 1

Three weeks earlier


The automatic doors whooshed open. In one surveying glance, Drex Easton took in the hotel lobby. It was empty except for the pretty young woman behind the reception desk. She had a porcelain-doll complexion, a glossy black ponytail, and an uncertain smile as she greeted him.

“Good morning, sir. Can I help you?”

Drex set his briefcase at his feet. “I don’t have a reservation, but I need a room.”

“Check-in isn’t until two o’clock.”


“Because…because for the convenience of our guests, checkout isn’t until noon.”


“Housekeeping needs time to—”

“I realize all that, Ms. Li.” He’d read the name badge pinned to her maroon blazer. He smiled. “I was hoping you could make an exception for me.”

He reached behind his back to remove a wallet from his pants pocket and, in doing so, spread open his suit jacket wide enough to reveal the shoulder holster beneath his left arm. Upon seeing it, the young woman blinked several times before rapidly shifting her gaze back up to his, which he held steady on her.

“No cause for alarm,” he said quietly. He flipped open the wallet that contained a badge and photo ID that classified him as a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

He didn’t like to overplay this card, doing so only when he needed a shortcut through rules and red tape. It worked on Ms. Li, who was automatically willing to please.

“Let me see what I can do.”

“I would consider it a big favor.”

Graceful fingers pecked across her keyboard. “Single or double?”

“I’m not picky.”

Her eyes scanned the computer monitor. She scrolled down, then back up. “I can have housekeeping service a nice double room for you right away, but the turnaround could take up to half an hour. Or, there’s a less nice single available now.”

“I’ll take the less nice single available now.” He slid a credit card across the granite counter.

“How long will you be staying with us, Mr. Easton?”

She was no slouch. She’d noted his name. “I’m not sure. Two other…Two associates of mine will be arriving shortly. I won’t know how long I’ll be staying until after our meeting. I’ll have to let you know then.”

“No problem. You may keep the room until you notify me of your departure.”

“Great. Thanks.”

She ran his credit card and proceeded to check him in. She had him initial the room rate on the form and sign his name at the bottom; then she returned his credit card along with the room key card. “That key also unlocks the door to the fitness center on the second floor.”

“Thanks, but I won’t be using it.”

“The restaurant is just down the corridor behind you. Breakfast is served—”

“No breakfast, either.” He bent down and picked up his briefcase.

Taking the subtle hint, she pointed him toward the elevators. “As you step off onto your floor, your room will be to your left.”

“Thank you, Ms. Li. You’ve been a huge help.”

“When your associates arrive, am I at liberty to give them your room number?”

“No need, I’ll text it to them. They can come straight up.”

“I hope your meeting goes well.”

He gave her a wry grin. “So do I.” Then he leaned forward and said in an undertone, “Relax, Ms. Li. You’re doing a fine job.”

She looked chagrined. “This is only my second day. Were my nerves that obvious?”

“Probably not to anyone else, but sizing people up quickly is a large part of what I do. And if this is only your second day, I’m even more impressed with how you handled a troublesome guest.”

“Not that troublesome at all.”

He gave her a lazy smile. “You caught me on a good day.”

The less nice single wasn’t a room the hotel chain would feature in an ad, but it would do. Drex opened his briefcase on the desk and booted up his laptop. He texted Mike the room number, then went over to the window. It afforded a fourth floor view of a freeway interchange and not much else.

He returned to the desk and checked his email in box. Nothing of importance. He went into the compact bathroom and used the toilet. As he came out, the hotel telephone was ringing. He picked up the extension on the desk. “Yes?”

“Mr. Easton?”

“Ms. Li.”

“Your associates are here.”

“Good.” Sooner than he’d expected.

“Would you like for me to send something from the kitchen up to your room? Perhaps a fruit platter? A selection of pastries?”

“Thank you, but no.”

“If you change your mind, don’t hesitate to call down.”

“I’ll do that, Ms. Li. Thanks again for accommodating me.”

“You’re welcome.”

Although the open drapes let in plenty of daylight, he switched on the desk lamp. He adjusted the thermostat down a few degrees. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror above the dresser and thought he looked presentable, but hardly spiffy. He’d showered and dressed in a rush.