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Perfect Target

Perfect Target

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"I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday night than losing myself in one of Barbara Freethy’s books. I love the Off The Grid series but I honestly think this one is my favorite. I have no doubt her next book will be awesome, too!" Booklovers Anonymous


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"I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday night than losing myself in one of Barbara Freethy’s books. I love the Off The Grid series but I honestly think this one is my favorite. I have no doubt her next book will be awesome, too!" Booklovers Anonymous

When a yacht blows up in the Newport Beach Harbor killing a California congressman, FBI Agent Beck Murray is reminded of another night ten years earlier when a mega-yacht caught fire. Then a rookie cop, he pulled popular teenage TV star Piper Nolan out of the water. He's never forgotten her terror or her rambling story, but the investigation was shut down before it even got started.

Now the current explosion provides a clue that leads back to Piper, Beck knows it can't be a coincidence. But Piper is even less willing to talk to him now. The former 
It Girl has hidden herself in the shadows. She has secrets and is clearly terrified.

Are her secrets twisted up in murder? Did she lie to him before? Is she lying to him now?

The danger heightens when another body drops. Beck needs to find a killer before anyone else becomes a target, including himself…and maybe the woman he's beginning to love.

A riveting, page-turning novel of politics, murder, and old secrets from #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Barbara Freethy.

What the readers are saying…

"I love this series, and 
PERFECT TARGET had me hooked from the beginning. Beck and Piper’s story is intense and captivating, with lots of twists and turns! It’s a wonderful read!" Kristen – Goodreads

"Perfect Target is the perfect combination of mystery, suspense, and romance. I love this series, and this one had me hooked from the beginning!" Kristen - Goodreads 


"You know what you have to do, Piper. Don't think about it. Just do it. Do it for Juliette," Megan Withers said.

Piper Nolan gripped the phone tighter in her hand as her friend's words sent a wave of anger and pain through her body. She knew why Megan had brought up Juliette. Megan wanted her to remember why they were doing this, what was at stake, not just for themselves but for so many other people. 

"I will do it," she promised. "That's why I'm here, even though this harbor is the last place I ever wanted to come back to." 

"I wish I could do it for you, but this one is on you. And it's not the same," Megan reminded her. "You're not a wild, reckless, drunken, naïve teenager anymore. None of us are."

"I just wish it wasn't Larry. We have so much history." She'd grown up in Hollywood, acting from the time she was five until nineteen, and Larry Brixton had played her TV father for ten of those years. But now, he was a U.S. senator, and she was a pastry chef. She hadn’t seen him in seven years, and a lot had changed since her days as a TV and film star. 

"Larry won't be there, Piper. You said he's coming later."

"That's true," she said. "The steward didn't even want to meet me until three, but I told him I could only drop off between one thirty and two. Hopefully, there's no one else around."

"Even if someone else is there, they won't be paying attention to you. You're just the hired help these days. You're not the celebrity you once were."

"And that's the way I like it." Her life had changed, she thought, as her gaze swept the Cabrillo Marina at the busy Port of Los Angeles. The marina was filled with luxury yachts, including the very grand My Serenity, a 75-foot super yacht that would be the scene of tonight's dinner party for a select group of political donors hosted by Senator Larry Brixton. She'd once partied on yachts like this, but tonight she was just catering the dessert.


Megan's sharp, questioning voice brought her back to the call. "What?"

"Stop stalling."

"Okay." She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. "I'll call you later."

Slipping her phone into the pocket of her jeans, she grabbed her keys and exited the van. Her task was not difficult. She just needed to get on with it. She couldn't let herself go into the past. The past had brought her here. But the future was what she needed to care about. 

She opened the back door of the van and pulled out a large, refrigerated carrier filled with desserts from her bakery. Then she headed through the parking lot and down the dock toward the biggest boat in the harbor. It was two o'clock on a Friday afternoon in early June, and the weather was in the eighties. Many of the slips were empty. No doubt most boaters were out on the water. 

She used to love boating. Living in Southern California, she'd had plenty of opportunities to sail, but her love of the ocean had dimmed a long time ago when she'd gone to a yacht party that had ended in a disastrous fire at this very same harbor. The smell of smoke, the heat of the flames, and the panicked feeling of being trapped in a fire at sea had left memories she would never forget. Even now, thoughts of the past slowed her steps. 

It wasn't the same, she told herself, repeating the mantra until she reached a locked gate. She put in the code supplied by the chief steward. The door clicked open, and she moved down the dock. When she reached the yacht, she texted the steward. A moment later, Robert Baron came out on deck and motioned for her to board. He was a tall man with short blond hair and brown eyes, wearing khaki slacks and a black polo shirt with My Serenity scrawled across the chest. He appeared to be in his late thirties. 

"You're five minutes late," he said with a British accent. 

"I'm sorry. I got stuck in traffic. Friday in LA is always bad."

His lips tightened at her excuse. "Yes, well, I'll show you into the galley."

As she followed him onto the yacht, she was surprised to see a man in a dark suit standing on the deck. He was big and broad, and as he moved, she saw a gun under his jacket. A shiver ran down her spine. He was security, but for who? "I didn't think anyone would be here yet," she said. 

"The senator arrived early," Robert replied. "He has work to do in the main salon, so you'll need to confine yourself to the galley."

That was not part of her plan. And the idea of running into Larry filled her with dread. But maybe this was a good thing. She should look at it as an opportunity. 

"How long will you be?" Robert asked as they made their way down the back stairs. 

"Probably about twenty minutes."

Once they entered the galley, she felt immediately better. Kitchens had always been her favorite place to be. Unfortunately, the gentle roll of the boat on the water reminded her she was on a yacht, and she still had a job to do—more than one job. 

"Is the chef around?" she asked.

"No. The rest of the crew will arrive in an hour. I've left you some platters and trays. There's some room in the fridge if you need it."

"Most of my desserts don't need to be refrigerated."

Robert checked his watch. "I have to run an errand. If you have questions, you can text me. I'm not sure if I'll be back before you leave."

She was relieved to know he was leaving. "I'll be fine. So, it's just the senator on the yacht and one of his security guards?"

His gaze narrowed. "Yes. Why is that important?"

"Just wondering. I don't want to disturb anyone."

"They won't be coming in to the galley. When you leave, please exit the way we came in." 

"Of course."

She blew out a breath as he left. It didn't seem that he knew much about her or her history with the senator, since he'd made a point of telling her to stay out of the salon. Or perhaps she was wrong. Larry could have made it clear to the steward that he didn't want to see her. But that made little sense. If Larry had a problem with her, he wouldn't have hired her. Robert was British. He probably wasn't as familiar with her former celebrity as others might be. 

Not that she looked much like the girl who had once covered every teen magazine in the world. That girl with the wild curly blonde hair, the skinny legs, the perpetual tan, and the daring clothes, was gone. Her hair, while still blonde, was six inches shorter and pulled back in a ponytail. Her clothes were not at all special, just jeans and a tank top and if there was anything on her face, it was flour, not makeup. 

Despite all that, she was recognizable if someone looked closely at her, but she'd learned a long time ago that celebrity was noticed more in context. A delivery person in jeans and a T-shirt wasn't going to draw any attention, and that was the way she wanted it.

She quickly opened the boxes and set out the desserts on the trays provided, keeping an ear out for any conversation, any sign of additional people on board, but all was quiet. When she was done wrapping a tray of cookies in plastic wrap, she took it upstairs to look at her display options and to give herself a reason to go into the salon. 

When she entered the room, Larry was sitting at the large mahogany dining table, a pile of papers in front of him, a whiskey by his hand. The sight was oh so familiar, and her breath stalled in her chest. He hadn't changed much in the last seven years. He'd always been handsome, with dark brown hair and blue eyes that lit up a screen. His hair was peppered with gray now and a pair of glasses slid halfway down his nose, but he still had his leading man looks, even though he was in his late fifties. 

She sometimes wondered why he'd gone into politics. He'd never seemed political to her or even that interested in current events, but after their family sitcom, The Carmichaels, had ended, he'd run for office, and he'd been elected by a landslide. Everyone's favorite dad had made the perfect candidate.

"Excuse me, what are you doing here?"

She whirled around at the sound of the voice behind her, meeting the sharp accusatory gaze of the security guard. "Uh." She looked from him to the senator, who was now staring at her in bemusement. "I—I just wanted to say hello to my former dad," she said. "Larry. How are you?"

"Piper," he said, as he took off his glasses. A smile parted his lips. "You look…different."

"And you look just the same. I'm glad you boarded early. I didn't think I'd have a chance to say hello and to thank you for hiring me to cater the desserts."

"Hailey raved about your business." He motioned to the guard behind her. "Jay, this is Piper Nolan. She used to play my daughter on TV. We met when she was about eight?"

"Nine," she said. "But I played a seven-year-old."

"That's right, little Katie Carmichael, who later turned into hot Katie Carmichael," he said with a smile. "Come, sit down." He motioned her forward. 

"I don't want to disturb you. I was just going to check my display options."

"I have a few minutes." Larry looked once more at the guard. "Jay, why don't you go have a smoke? I'm sure you're dying for a cigarette right about now. Take a break before everything gets going."

"All right. Can I get you anything, sir?"

"No, I'm fine." 

She sat down as the security guard left the salon, giving Larry a smile, and trying not to feel nervous about being alone with him. He'd always been relatively nice to her when she was on set, but there were things she knew about him, maybe things he knew about her…

"So, you bake now. How did you get into that?" Larry asked.

"The kitchen was always my happy place, and after the show ended, I took my career there." 

"Probably a wise idea. You weren't getting a lot of callbacks with all the trouble you were getting yourself into, were you?"

"No," she admitted. "I was on a bad path back then. But my desserts have been getting a lot of callbacks lately." She didn't know why she felt the need to brag, but she did. The last time Larry had seen her, she'd been at a low point. "My business is booming."

"Hailey told me you catered for Sam Trent last month. She said your cookies were out of this world."

"Would you like to try one?" She tipped her head toward the tray.

"Maybe later. How is your mother? Is Rachel involved in your baking business?"

"No, she's managing other child actors now."

"Well, she had a lot of practice with you. Rachel was always in the thick of things, making her opinions known." 

"She was never shy," she agreed, not wanting to talk about her mother. "How are Marie and the kids?"

"Marie is fine. The kids haven't been kids in a long time. Joel is thirty-three now. He graduated from Harvard Law School and has been working as my policy director the past three years. He's as smart as can be. He wants a career in politics, and I'm sure he'll be in office within the next two years."

"That's impressive."

"Yes, it is, but sometimes I worry about his ambition. Joel always wants everything yesterday, and sometimes patience is the key, but he doesn't listen to me. He has his own ideas now. Marie says he's just like me. Maybe he is."

She'd never known Joel very well. He'd been six years older than her, but she had been close with his sister. "What about Lindsay?"

"She got a degree at Berkeley and recently joined my staff to help work on my campaign advertising. She's very creative, good at storyboarding, and coming up with interesting concepts. She might go into filmmaking after this."

"She was always interested in being behind the camera," she said. "You're lucky to have both your kids working with you."

"I am. Lindsay mostly stays in the Bay Area. We moved to San Francisco after the show ended."

"I heard that. You wanted to be near Marie's father."

"Yes. Marie spends a lot of time taking care of her dad." 

"I remember Marie making us snickerdoodles all the time. She'd bring them to the set and the makeup artists would get angry because we'd end up with cinnamon sugar all over our hands and faces. I actually think of her when I make those cookies."

"I'll have to tell her that. She always loved you and Tara Lynn and Bryce. Felt like you were her kids, too."

"Will she be joining you tonight?"

"No. This is a political dinner—all business." He paused, his gaze narrowing. "I have to ask you something, Piper, and I need you to be honest with me."

His words made her tense. "Of course. What is it?"

"Did you seek this job out because you wanted to talk to me about doing a reunion show? I already told the others that I have no interest in that. I have a different life now. And while my fans might want me back, I need to think of the bigger picture."

"I have no interest in a reunion show, either." She was relieved that his question was one she could honestly answer. "And I didn't seek you out. Your assistant called me about this job." That wasn't the complete truth. She had made a point of being introduced to Hailey Meyers at Sam Trent's party. She knew Hailey handled Larry's social events, and she'd been eager to find a way into one of his parties. But it certainly wasn't because she wanted to do a reunion show. "Believe me, I have no intention of going back into acting," she added.

His suspicion eased. "All right then. Although, you were an excellent actress, before you lost your way. You were out of control those last few years. There were so many negative, embarrassing articles about you. It was party after party and one bad decision followed by another. If I hadn't wanted to end the show, you would have been written off to college." 

"Sometimes I wish I had gone to college," she murmured. "I wish I'd gone to regular middle school and high school, too. But I wasn't meant to have a normal life."

"Normal is extremely overrated. You were lucky to get the life you had." A scolding note entered his voice. "A lot of actors would have killed for what you took for granted. You made a lot of money, traveled the world, and you lived a big life." He shook his head, giving her a disappointed look. "You didn't know how good you had it, Piper. You threw it all away for what? Booze, drugs, fame? Was it worth it?" 

She bristled at his tone. "I don't know that anything was worth it. I was put in situations I never should have been put in as a kid."

"Oh, please." He waved a dismissive hand. "No one poured drinks down your throat. Don't play the victim with me. I'm tired of child actors saying how difficult they had it, always forgetting how much more they had than other kids their age. Maybe you appreciate it more now that you're serving people food instead of being served yourself."

She sucked in a quick breath, angered by his sharp words. He had no idea what he was talking about. She might serve food, but she worked for herself. She called her own shots and lived how she wanted to live. It was good that she'd talked to him again. This conversation reminded her that Larry Brixton might be an attractive, well-liked celebrity and public figure, but he was still an arrogant asshole.

Getting to her feet, she said, "I should let you get back to work. I'm just going to see if this tray will fit on the sideboard."

"Sure, go ahead." He pushed his glasses back on and looked down at his paperwork. 

She took the tray over to the sideboard. While pretending to measure the tray, she slipped a small listening device out of her pocket and pressed the sticky side against the underside of the table. Her hand shook with nerves as she did it, terrified that Larry would turn around and ask what she was doing. But as she finished, she glanced back at him, and realized he was not paying her any attention at all. His gaze was fixed on his phone, a frown crossing his lips as he read something on the screen. 

"Dammit," he murmured. "What the hell?"

While he was distracted, she took the tray, then moved down the stairs and into the galley. She left the tray on the counter, then headed into the hallway. There were several elegant staterooms. When she entered the master, she was thrilled to see Larry's briefcase open on the desk. She hurried toward it. There wasn't much inside. He'd probably taken most of the files into the salon with him, but there were a couple of loose items, including receipts from a hotel and a restaurant and a piece of paper upon which had been scribbled several lines of numbers and letters. She pulled out her phone and took a couple of photos. 

Then she took out another listening device and placed it on the underside of the desk. She opened and closed a few drawers in the dresser. There was nothing of interest. It didn't feel like the senator spent much time in here. She went into the bathroom and checked the medicine cabinet, but beyond the usual over-the-counter pain relievers, there was nothing to see. 

Not wanting to push her luck, she returned to the galley. She put a couple of trays in the fridge and then walked up to the top deck. Pausing, she looked out at the harbor. A smaller boat moved out of a nearby slip with music playing. Two bikini-clad girls posed for selfies by the rail, while two guys stood by the wheel, wearing board shorts and drinking beer. She knew that scene. The music, the photos, the alcohol. Her stomach turned as memories swamped her once more. But she didn't want to remember anything. So she turned and walked down the gangway.

Larry's security guy was sitting on a bench under a tree, probably trying to find some cool shade on this hot day. He was smoking a cigarette and looking at his phone. At the sound of her steps, he lifted his head, and gave her a nod. 

"Have a good day," she said cheerfully. 

"Too hot for that," he returned. 

Despite his words, he made no effort to return to the air-conditioned yacht. Clearly, the cigarette took precedence over his heat concerns. She walked through the gate and down the dock, feeling her relief grow with each step. She'd done what she needed to do. Now, she just hoped it would work, and they'd get the information that they desperately needed. 

She'd almost reached her van when an enormous blast threw her off her feet. She landed on her knees, her ears ringing, her heart pounding, shocked and confused. Then she covered her head as a raining heat of debris fell all around her. When it finally stopped, she looked toward the harbor, seeing flames and smoke where the majestic yacht had once been. My Serenity was now engulfed in flames. 

She stared at the scene in disbelief. Through her echoing brain, she heard screams. People were running toward the fire. Others were running away. But she couldn't move. 

The truth had frozen her in place. The yacht had exploded. Larry Brixton had been on board. 

Oh, God! What had just happened?  

She coughed as thick smoke swept over the area. And once more she slid back in time, to another yacht, another fire. 

This time was different. She hadn't had to jump overboard. She wasn't in the water. She wasn't freezing. She wasn't nineteen and terrified. 

But her pulse was racing so fast she couldn't catch her breath. She tried to tell herself the explosion had nothing to do with her, with the bugs she'd planted, with Brixton's past. But it didn't feel that way. It didn't feel that way at all. 

Jumping to her feet, she ran toward her van. She jumped inside and locked the door. Then she turned on the engine and drove out of the lot, past the responding police and fire trucks. She had to get away. She couldn't talk to anyone, especially not to the police.

THE FBI SERIES takes readers on thrilling, romantic, and suspenseful adventures! While an overarching mystery plays out over the first five novels, every story stands completely on its own and there are no cliffhangers!

The books feature complex and exciting storylines ranging from kidnapping to organized crime, terrorism, and espionage. Personal stories often play out against a bigger, broader storyline, and surprising twists will keep you up all night. Start reading today!

Check out more books in the series!

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  • Desperate Play
  • Elusive Promise
  • Dangerous Choice
  • Ruthless Cross
  • Critical Doubt
  • Fearless Pursuit
  • Daring Deception
  • Risky Bargain
  • Perfect Target
  • Fatal Betrayal
  • Deadly Trap