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Ruthless Cross

Ruthless Cross

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"Barbara Freethy writes a beautiful, edge of the seat story, full of intrigue, mystery and romance. This is my favorite FBI series! Can’t wait to read the next book!" Christine - Goodreads


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"Count on Freethy to thrill your socks off, while running away with your heart. RUTHLESS CROSS had me holding my breath and biting my nails as I sat on the edge of my seat." Isha - Bookbub

Everyone has a secret. Some are worth killing for…some are worth dying for…

The son of an art thief, FBI agent Flynn MacKenzie is no stranger to deception, but when the brutal murder of a federal judge unravels an intricate and shocking web of lies, he finds himself tangled up in personal life-changing secrets and in the arms of a woman he isn't sure he can trust.

Callie Harper not only wants justice for her stepfather, she also wants to protect her family. Staying close to Flynn seems like the smart option, until she starts to fall for the man who could hurt everyone she loves.

The lines between good and bad, guilty and innocent, are blurred. Callie and Flynn quickly realize their search for the truth could take them somewhere they don't want to go...if they can stay alive long enough to get there.

Family secrets, stolen art, and murder abound in this romantic, action-packed thriller from #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Barbara Freethy!

What the readers are saying about RUTHLESS CROSS ...

"RUTHLESS CROSS is another adrenaline-filled story, with well written and developed characters, 
Barbara Freethy is a master of her craft!" ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Booklovers Anonymous

"RUTHLESS CROSS is yet another romantic suspense from Barbara Freethy that I had to read cover to cover in one sitting! 
From the first line, Ms. Freethy takes readers on a fast-paced tale of murder, old secrets and priceless art. I can’t wait for Savannah’s story!" Pam - Goodreads


Beauty, money, and art had brought all the pretty people together. FBI Agent Flynn MacKenzie accepted a glass of champagne as his gaze swept the grand hall of the elegant Piquard Art Museum, set on ten acres in the Santa Monica mountains with sweeping views of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean. He'd been at the Piquard many times. He knew almost every inch of the four-story architectural wonder that housed pre-twentieth-century European paintings, illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, and photographs from the 1830s through present day. 

Today's exhibition by French painter Gerard Bissette was like so many other events he'd attended in his lifetime. But he hadn't come for the art; he'd come for an old friend, a man who had been a father figure to him at a time when he'd desperately needed one. Judge Arthur Corbyn had called him earlier that day, an urgent note in his voice, requesting that he meet him tonight at the museum. He'd said he needed a favor and would explain everything at the party. The call had given him a bad feeling. He hoped Arthur wasn't in trouble, but if he was, Flynn would do everything he could to help him. 

As his gaze swept the magnificent hall, with its sleek marble floors and exquisitely ornate glass chandeliers, he saw titans of industry: the white-haired and regal Hamilton Augustyn, head of the Augustyn luxury hotel chain; Valerie Dare, the voluptuous copper-haired CEO of Dare Perfume; and Colin Chambers, the gregarious Brit, whose new electric cars were being hailed as the fleet of the future. 

There were celebrities and film stars, athletes and social media influencers, and of course, there were the icons of the art world including Kyle Logan, who had recently taken over the Logan Gallery in New York City from his father Walter Logan. Flynn had met Kyle years ago when they'd both been bored young teenagers attending an art exhibit with their fathers. He smiled as he saw Kyle swing his arm around a beautiful woman. Kyle's dark, handsome looks had always made him attractive to the ladies. 

As his gaze moved around Kyle's circle, he saw Pamela Smythe, a tall, haughty art critic, whose scathing reviews could destroy an artist's career in only a few words; the new Italian boy wonder, artist Marcus Vitelli, who was taking the art world by storm; Gretchen Vale, the attractive platinum blonde who had once been his father's most trusted assistant; and the short and stocky Gerard Bissette, the fifty-five-year-old French artist, whose work was being honored tonight. 

And then there were the worker bees, the museum staff moving surreptitiously through the crowd in their conservative suits and dresses, making sure that the guests were having a good time. There were also security guards, some in uniform, others in plain clothes, keeping an eye on not only the central exhibition area, that was still hidden behind white curtains, but also the many other exhibits housed in various rooms throughout the building.

But where was Arthur? 

That question had no sooner crossed his mind when Arthur entered the hall. It had been years since he'd seen him, but he hadn't changed much. He was of medium height with a lean build and a bit of gray in his brown hair. The woman at his side had short, dark-brown hair and a frame so thin that the enormous diamond on the third finger of her left hand seemed to weigh her down. He hadn't realized that Arthur had gotten married again, but he was happy for him. 

Following Arthur and his wife was a beautiful, young woman, who, despite the January chill, was wearing a slim-fitting red mini dress that fell off her shoulders and showed off her legs. Her dark hair cascaded over her bare shoulders in shimmering waves. She would have been even more stunning if there had been a smile on her face, but the tight line of her lips indicated someone who'd rather be anywhere else. 

As they moved into the room, Arthur's gaze connected with his. Relief flashed in his brown eyes. Arthur said something to his wife and then crossed the room to speak to him. 

"I almost didn't recognize you without a surfboard under your arm, Flynn."

"I still hit the waves as often as I can." They exchanged a handshake and a brief hug. "It's good to see you."

"You, too. Thank you for coming. I'm sure this art museum is probably the last place you'd want to be after everything that happened with your father."

"What do you need from me?" he asked, not wanting to talk about his dad.

"A conversation, but the subject matter is…" Arthur glanced around their immediate vicinity to make sure they were alone. "Sensitive."

He could see the discomfort in Arthur's gaze. "Then perhaps we should meet another time. You could come by my office."

"No. This isn't FBI business. It's personal. It's private."

"Then I could come to your home."

"That might be noticed as well."

"By who?"

Arthur took a step closer, lowering his voice. "Someone is watching me. That's why I asked you to come here. After Gerard's talk, we'll find a moment, perhaps on the upstairs terrace. We'll just be two old friends catching up." He paused. "Did you bring a date as I requested?"

"She's on her way. Although, I don't know why I need a date."

"Our meeting must appear to be coincidental, social. No one comes to these events on their own." 

With every word, Flynn's bad feeling got worse. "You're being very mysterious."

"I know." Arthur gave him an apologetic look. "I've gotten myself into a tricky situation. I'm hoping you can help me. I'm feeling a bit desperate."

"I'll certainly try to help you. You got me through some very dark times."

Relief filled Arthur's eyes. "I'm happy to see that you're doing well for yourself. I knew you would. You have a resiliency, a stubborn determination, that keeps you going no matter what gets in your way." He paused, his gaze moving to the woman approaching. "She doesn't know."

"Understood," he said quietly.

"Juliette, I'd like you to meet an old friend. This is Flynn MacKenzie, the young man I was telling you about."

"Olivia's friend," Juliette said. "It's lovely to meet you." While there was warmth in her eyes, her hand was ice cold, and he wanted to shove his own hand in his pocket just to heat it back up. 

"You, too," he said.

"Juliette organized this exhibition," Arthur continued. "She's the events director here at the museum."

"It looks to be amazing," he said, giving her a smile. 

"I hope so. There are always so many last-minute details to worry about. But Gerard is important to the museum, to us personally. He's a good friend of Arthur's, and I want everything to be perfect."

He could hear the strain in her voice. "I'm sure it will be."

"Juliette and I met at a similar party about eighteen months ago," Arthur said, sliding his arm around his wife's waist. "We were married six months later, and we celebrated our anniversary at Christmas."

"That's very fast."

"When it's right, you know it." Arthur gave his wife a loving smile. 

Juliette smiled back, but there was something a little forced about it. 

"Mom," the beautiful brunette interrupted. "Victoria Waltham is looking for you, and she has fire in her eyes. Apparently, there's a problem with someone's ticket."

"Oh, dear. I better take care of that," Juliette said, hurrying over to speak to the museum director, who was standing by the entrance with an elderly couple. 

"Callie, this is Flynn MacKenzie," Arthur said. "My stepdaughter Callie Harper."

"Hello," she said. 

He extended his hand, wondering if her touch would be as cold as her mother's, but it wasn't—it was red-hot. A fiery warmth spread through him as their gazes met. Her dark-brown eyes made it almost impossible to look away or to let go, but as a question entered her gaze, he released her hand. 

She stepped back, her tongue swiping across her lower lip, a flush of pink spreading across her cheeks. "Excuse me," she said. "I have to…find someone."

He felt inexplicably disappointed by her abrupt departure. 

"That's Callie—never eager to spend more than one minute in my company," Arthur said with annoyance. 

"Arthur, my old friend, and my most loyal patron," Gerard Bissette interrupted. 

Flynn stepped back as Arthur and Gerard embraced. 

"You look well," Arthur told Gerard.

"As do you. Who is your friend?"

"Flynn MacKenzie, meet Gerard Bissette, one of the most important artists of our time."

"I'm honored," he said.

"You look familiar. Have we met before?" Gerard asked, a thoughtful gleam in his eyes.

"No," he said, having a feeling that Gerard might have met his father. 

"Interesting. I rarely forget a face." Gerard turned back to Arthur. "I hate to interrupt, but I'd like you to meet some of my friends from Paris before the show opens."

"I would love to. Will you excuse us, Flynn?" 

"Of course." As they left, he let out a breath and took a sip of champagne. He had stopped hiding from his father's shame a long time ago. In fact, he'd turned that bad experience into an advantage. But sometimes the memory still stung. 

"I'm here," Savannah Kane proclaimed.

"You're late," he grumbled.

"It takes time to get this pretty." She gave him a saucy, confident smile.  

Savannah Kane was more than a little pretty. She was a former Miss Georgia, but her blonde hair and light-green eyes had never impressed him as much as her analytical skills and her ability to blend into any environment, which made her a valuable member of his FBI task force. 

"Your time was well spent," he told her.

"You look pretty, too, Flynn. Although, you could have shaved."

"It's my look," he said with a grin.

"I get it. That sexy scruff charms all the girls," she drawled. "So, why am I here? Is there a threat to the exhibit?"

"No. This is a personal situation. I was asked to bring a date."

"And none of your thousand girlfriends were free?" 

"Since I don't know exactly what this is about, or what I'm walking into, I thought you would be a better cover."

"All right. Then I need some champagne. For cover, of course," she added with a laugh. 

He snagged a glass from the tray of a passing waiter. "Here you go."

She took a sip. "Nice and expensive, just the way I like it." 

"Good. I hope I didn't pull you away from an actual date."

"No Friday night plans for me. I was going to catch up on paperwork. My boss likes to bend the rules during the investigation, but when it comes to the after-reports, he's a stickler for detail."

He smiled at her pointed comment. "That's because my boss gives me latitude until he has to justify everything that happened under his watch."

"Your boss is Damon now. I'm sure he'll cut you some slack. He's one of us. We came through Quantico together."

Savannah was right. Damon Wolfe was one of them, even though he now headed up the LA field office and oversaw many divisions, including Flynn's specialized task force. 

"Damon is great, but he has a boss, too."

"The many layers of bureaucracy," she grumbled. "It's why I like working for you so much, Flynn. You cut through the red tape with a ruthless pair of scissors."

"I love wielding those scissors." 

"I know you do. Can you tell me anything about tonight?"

He tipped his head toward Arthur, who had been joined by his wife, Juliette, and was now talking to not only Gerard Bissette, but also an older couple in their sixties, as well as Kyle Logan and his date, and the museum director Victoria Waltham, a sophisticated blonde in her early forties. 

Victoria had been around the art scene since she was an eighteen-year-old intern at the Benedict Auction House and had worked her way through galleries and museums to get to her current position. He'd met her when he was about fifteen. She'd spent a month at his father's gallery. She'd been about twenty-two then. She'd been completely disinterested in him, but she'd been very flirty with his father, something that had made him uncomfortable. But despite other things his dad had eventually been found culpable for, cheating on his wife had never been one of them.  Not that that meant it hadn't happened. His father had turned out to be a master of deception. 

"Flynn?" Savannah pressed. "Are you still with me?"

"Sorry. The man in the gray suit is a federal judge—Arthur Corbyn," he explained. "Next to him is the featured artist for tonight's exhibit, Gerard Bissette; Victoria Waltham, the museum director; Kyle Logan a gallery owner out of New York and his date; and I don't know the other couple. Arthur called me earlier today and asked me to meet him here. He has something to discuss with me but wants to do it in a social setting where no one would think anything of him speaking to an FBI agent."

"Is this about a case then?"

"He said it's personal."

"How do you know him?"

"I dated his daughter, Olivia, my senior year in high school." He paused. "You've heard that story." At Quantico, exercises and tests had forced them to reveal their darkest secrets, their deepest sorrows, to strip them bare, to forge trust and to make them less vulnerable down the road. Olivia had been part of his reveal.

Savannah gave him a compassionate look. "Olivia died on vacation with her mom shortly after you graduated."

"Yes. And Arthur helped me get through it. And it wasn't the first time he did that. When I met him, I was still reeling from what had gone down with my dad. Arthur was like a second father to me. I owe him for that."

"Sounds like he wants to collect."

"He does want a favor. He told me that much. But he wouldn't say more. The last time I spoke to him was more than five years ago, right before I went to Quantico. We ran into each other at a restaurant, and that was a brief conversation. I have no idea what his life is about now, but he's in some kind of trouble. He said someone is watching him, another reason for the very public meeting." 

"Makes sense. So, we'll help him, because he's important to you." 

"Thanks." He liked how simple Savannah kept things. Loyalty and trust were what made them work so well together. 

"It looks like the judge is headed somewhere," she murmured.

He nodded as Arthur slipped away from the group and down a hallway. "Maybe the restroom. I'll see if I can find him. I'd prefer to have our conversation sooner rather than later."

"Go. I'll wander around and see if I can learn something about art or maybe find an attractive, single, art collector."

He smiled, doubting she'd have any trouble doing that. He headed across the room but was almost immediately waylaid by his father's former assistant, Gretchen Vale. 

"Flynn, is that you?" she asked, surprise in her eyes.


She gave him a confused look. "I can't believe you're here, at an art museum. I thought you had given up your love of art after your dad…"

"That was a long time ago. You look well. Are you still running the gallery in Laguna Beach?" After his father's departure, Gretchen had taken over his gallery, changing the name but keeping some of their customer base. 

"Yes. I'm here with my husband, Stephen, although I don't know where he is at the moment. You remember Stephen."

"I do."

"How have you been, Flynn?"

"I'm good."

"What are you up to now?" 

"I'd love to chat, but I have to meet someone. Excuse me."

"Of course. Maybe we can catch up later, Flynn. There are things we should talk about."

He couldn't imagine what those things could be. "That would be great," he lied. The last person he wanted to talk to was Gretchen. He didn't know what he really thought about her, but the one thing he did know was that he couldn't trust her.

Moving across the room, he turned down the hallway where he'd seen Arthur go. As he came around a corner, he ran smack into Arthur's stepdaughter, Callie Harper. 

He caught her by the arm as she stumbled. "Sorry," he murmured. "I didn't see you."

"It's fine," she said quickly. 

She glanced away, but not before he saw what looked like tears in her dark eyes. 

His gut clenched at her beauty, at her inexplicable sorrow. Before he could ask her if she was all right, she slipped past him. He thought about following her, but he needed to focus on finding Arthur. He checked the nearby restroom, but it was empty. He wandered down the hall, scanning the two nearby exhibit rooms for any sign of Arthur, but he was not among those admiring the work of German sculptor, Heinrich Schmidt, or in the crowd viewing the erotic art of Sylvia Plum. 

When he stepped into the corridor, the museum speaker announced that the exhibit would be opening shortly in the grand hall. He joined the throng of guests making their way back to the center of the building. 

He scanned the hall for Arthur, but there was no sign of him. Nor did he see Juliette or Callie. The absence of all three was somewhat disturbing.

Savannah came up next to him. "Did you find Judge Corbyn?"

"No. And I don't see him now."

"Neither do I. Maybe he's on one of the other floors. The entire museum is open tonight, right?"

"I believe so. But why wouldn't he be here now, supporting Gerard?" His bad feeling grew as Victoria Waltham stepped up to the microphone. After welcoming the guests, she directed their attention to a large screen for a short video of Gerard's life and work. 

As the video ended, Callie came back into the hall. She took a glass of champagne from a waiter, her attention on the stage as Gerard stepped onto the stage. The artist thanked everyone for coming and talked about his inspiration for his latest collection.

Flynn barely heard what Gerard was saying, every nerve in his body on high alert. Something was wrong. 

Where the hell was Arthur?

He heard a crashing noise overhead. It was so loud that Gerard paused, and the entire crowd looked upward just in time to see a body come over the fourth-floor railing. 

A woman screamed. The guests scattered as the body crashed to the ground. People ran for the doors, diving for cover behind statues, not sure where the danger was coming from. 

He pushed through the crowd, the first to run toward the body and not away. 

When he saw the crumpled body of a man, his brown eyes wide open, his gaze fixed in disbelief, the breath left his chest. 

It was Arthur Corbyn. And he was dead.

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!

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