Martha Lavery Chance is a woman with a dark secret—a wild-hearted, amoral, alter personality, Serena, created to save her sanity as a child in danger. At present, living with a wonderful man, Martha refuses to marry him, believing it will cost him his life. A detective, he brings home the sad tale of another small child taken, sexually devastated, and murdered. His anguish sends her alter, Serena, into a rage against child predators, and she aches to get busy again, destroying the sexual capacity of these monsters. Can she disable a few more of those predators while staying free of prison herself?

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Predator by Ramona Forrest, Martha Lavery Chance and her alternate personality, Serena, are back targeting child predators. She has castrated several in the past, and while the cops in her old home town of Colorado Springs looked the other way, she now lives in Denver—and with a police detective, Harry Johns. He knows about her past, and he sympathizes with her because his own little daughter was sexually abused and killed and Martha’s grandson was sexually abused. Even though her grandson is still alive, Martha fears he will never be the same again and will never be able to live a normal life. But Martha and Harry both know that Serena has no morals and her nighttime endeavors could easily land Martha in jail, along with making her a lot of nasty enemies who may target those close to her as well as Martha herself.

Told in Forrest’s unique voice, filled with wonderful characters, fast-paced action, and a solid plot, this is one you will want to keep on your shelf to read over again whenever you feel like the bad guys are getting the upper hand.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Predator by Ramona Forrest is the third book in her Martha Lavery/Serena series. In this book, Martha and her alter personality, Serena, still want to castrate child predators, hoping that will help protect young children from these monsters. The problem is that word has slipped out about Martha/Serena and her little hobby, and even though the cops often look the other way, someday Serena might do something that they can’t ignore, and Martha could end up in prison. It’s a thought that haunts Martha, but she is unwilling to stand back and do nothing while more and more children are abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered. So she needs something that can castrate a man without letting him know he’s been castrated. And she may have found a clue in the world of veterinary medicine. But will it work on humans, and if so, how would she do it? And, of course, the big question—can she do it without getting caught?

Predator is intense, down-to-earth, fast-paced, and compelling. Combining mystery and suspense with a hint of romance, it’s a worthy addition to the series.

Chapter 1

Martha Chance, happy these days in her new life with Detective Harry Johns, nevertheless fought a frequent battle with that other person who lived within her mind. Her alter ego, Serena, was a recently discovered phenomenon. She was one who continued to wage a quiet, insidious war, quietly, but always there with her continual wanting. And Serena’s ever present quest remained a constant, nagging thing—vengeance on every child predator in existence.

Martha lived happily from day to day, enveloped in the love and tenderness between her and Detective Harry Johns. Yet, in spite of the security and comfort of an idyllic life lived in that gentle environment, she had little respite from those insistent inner leanings. She’d been warned by her doctors, her lover, and her family that, in time, if she was unable to stop herself, she’d move toward some final, fatal step that would ensure her doom.

That previously unknown entity, Serena, had saved Martha’s sanity against the horror of what had happened to her as a six-year-old. Serena had taken over for her that year, and Martha had no memory of her first grade year, though she’d been told her grades had been excellent. After the abuser had gone into the navy, Martha was herself again, but completely unaware of Serena until the rape and sodomy of her grandson, Will. At that time, her hitherto unknown alter ego had come forth to avenge the crime against her small grandson.

That deed and subsequent actions were done out of utter desperation and rage at the inefficiency of the law. Because of the strange occurrences happening to her at that time, she had sought medical help. A gentle, competent, psychiatrist in Colorado Springs had acquainted her with the wild-hearted Serena, her alter personality. From that time on, Serena had gained a strong presence in Martha’s consciousness.

The avenging and illegal things Serena had done in recent years had placed Martha in severe jeopardy with the law. But she’d been lucky. She smiled, remembering that understanding detective in Colorado Springs, Ryan Mapus.

Martha moved about her home, enjoying the comforting routine of dusting, cleaning, and preparing meals. Even now, with a great meatloaf sizzling in her oven, along with two sizable baking potatoes, Martha enjoyed setting the table for two. That act alone comforted her with the fact she was no longer alone in the world. Her alliance with the detective, Harry Johns, made that lovely difference.

Living with Detective Johns brought continued relief from those hidden desires, yet they hung over her, clinging, as a thick dark cloud. And because the last man she’d fallen in love with and married had died, she feared Harry would die, too, and leave her alone again. She had refused to marry him.

Martha worked as a registered nurse at Hillsdale General, a local hospital outside the bustling city of Denver. She worked per diem, which allowed her to choose to work when she felt the need. Her shifts at the hospital enabled her to get out and join the community as a useful and competent member. Affecting the norm in every outward appearance, she lived a quiet, legal, and decent life. Yet, while carefully placing the plates and silverware, she frequently acknowledged the scores this inner creature had helped her settle, and she quietly rejoiced in them.

Shivering at how close she’d come to prison and death, she’d faced the reality of why she’d needed this inner person. Martha had then understood the cause. In her abhorrence of the things she’d done, if no one was around to hear her talking to thin air, she often verbally chastised her tormentor. Yet all the while, she rejoiced in having ruined the sexual capabilities of several destroying, inhuman, child predators.

Until Will’s abduction, Martha had lived blissfully unaware that she even had an alter ego. And once she’d become cognizant of that other personality, she had also come face to face with the horrendous events that had caused the need for Serena to come into being. Once it’d been discussed and dealt with by her psychiatrists, Martha’s real healing had begun.

From then on, Martha had found the strength to face—to learn to live with the evil things that had happened to her as a small child. She now lived a loving and peaceful life. While Martha’s own sense of right and wrong fought a continuous battle with her alter ego, Serena had no real sense of right and wrong.

Often when alone, Martha went over her past—those deeds done by her alter-ego, Serena. First, the predator who molested her grandson—Fred Callahan. Then his good buddy, child rapist and murderer, Denny Garver. He now resided on death row near Canyon City. She went on to name them all in her mind, including how she had taken care of those computer dates. Those fiendish— older males who posed as young amorous boys. They used computer lingo to lure underage, lonely girls into illicit liaisons. They lured them to a sleazy motel, only to rape them and tear into their innocent young flesh, destroying their trusting innocence forever.

“Knock it off, Serena. I really don’t relish spending the last years of my life in the slammer.” She uttered the last words aloud, hoping to quell the rising urgency and desire to get busy once again. “Not when I have a great guy like Harry to keep me from giving in to the likes of you.” She straightened a wayward fork alongside a plate and returned to the stove to check dinner preparations.

Outside the sun was lowering, and the new spring growth had greened up the deciduous trees. Apple trees bloomed, and the snow had melted, except for the patches she saw up in the higher reaches of the Rocky Mountains. How often she delighted to see them soaring to lofty heights above their home.

Her reveries of past adventures with Serena faded at hearing Harry’s truck drive up the graveled driveway. Her heart beat faster, and she nearly dropped the butter dish. She knew intimately every squeak and rattle of his favorite old Ford pickup. He didn’t use a company car these days. Undercover work went a lot better with a personal conveyance. A lot of his cohorts did the same, and at their own cost, success being a powerful motivator.

Their solid, slightly rustic ranch style house stood on the outskirts of Denver, amid groves of orchards and open fields, surrounded by scented, stately pines. Farther out, past the dense greenery of the forested areas, the high Rockies jutted majestically, reaching far into the clear blue sky. The high rocky crags and peaks with patches of snow crusted in the frigid shadows gave it a solid look of clean and wild magnificence. They enjoyed the high, bracing air, and in their happiness, often had the feeling of living in a magical Eden.

The truck scrunched to a halt, and the rasping sounds of the door opening made her heart rate quicken. He’d arrived home with his steadying love and big warm body to hold and comfort her. Harry had saved her sanity, and she thanked him silently for it every day.

Martha realized that her days of peace and serenity came with a price. It allowed Serena to quietly foment and seethe with vengeful ideas that grew incrementally stronger. But Harry was home now, and his presence always helped dispel the darkness of Serena. Martha’s heart raced as she heard him coming into the house.

Without tripping over their two yelping, nearly grown pups, she ran out the kitchen door to greet him, leaving behind her worries. Uttering the words between clenched teeth, she snarled, “Serena, stay away from me with your mad ideas. I can’t, and I won’t, screw this thing up. You just leave me the hell alone!”

She met Harry full on as he moved toward the arms she held wide open without realizing it.

“Hey, hon, what’s going on?” He always knew when she was troubled. His voice, though gentle, was also commanding, “Come on, spill, my darlin’.”

Martha uttered a weak laugh. “You know, same ole same ole.”

He opened his own arms. She nestled close against his broad chest and let her troubled soul sink into his warm masculinity. Together, laughing, they tried to walk into the house, warding off the happy welcoming of Max and Skunk. The half-grown pups had been welcome replacements of their earlier dogs lost to the jealous insanity of a mad man. They spent time petting and roughing the glistening fur of the two animals,

Max, a larger German Sheppard mix, eclipsed Skunk, who was smaller with the softly blotched furring of an Australian Shepherd mixed with Blue Heeler. The pups, certainly equal in eagerness, made fending them off a happy, forgetting time for all concerned. Martha, wiping the moisture from Max’s tongue off her arms, laughed, and looked Harry in the eyes.

“How was your day?” Seeing the sickness in his eyes, she knew it hadn’t been a good one. They never were when he looked like that. Together, they made their way into the kitchen.

“No, you don’t, my darling. You go first.” He was no pushover. A strong man, she’d never been able to bulldoze him into going along with her ideas, and she respected him all the more for it. And at this moment, she hated to dampen the heated way she felt just seeing him again after only a day away. One of Denver’s finest detectives, he was good at what he did.

“Just the same ol, same ol,” she repeated. “You know what I mean.” She looked into his eyes. “I’m sick of talking about it. Now tell me what’s with you. I see it in your eyes, and it’s not good—I’ll listen if you’ll tell me.” Martha knew Harry was careful to say only what was fit for her ears, and the indecision in his eyes told her this was one of those times.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to say it. We have a missing child, a five-year-old girl coming home from kindergarten, alone. This one strikes too damned close to home for me.” She took him into her arms, and together they silently commiserated on the hideous possibilities. “Her mother was a bit late in picking her up…”

She felt him shudder and knew his helpless tears had started.

“Any leads?” She couldn’t stop herself from asking. “How many sexual predators living in her near vicinity—this time?”

His arms tightened spasmodically around her as his body stiffened. Her throat went dry to the point she thought she might choke. She already knew the answer.

“We found about twenty, all within a mile’s radius. How in the hell can that be? And why do we allow these rotten bastards to live peacefully among us? Where in the hell are they coming from? That’s what drives me up a wall. No wonder you did those things you did. I’ve always understood it, considering my own past. It made a hell of a lot of sense to me.” He tightened his grip on her trembling body. “Is it getting so bad we need the days of the old West back again when men like that were strung up by the balls and left for the buzzards?” She felt him getting worked up and angry and sought to deter it if she could.

“Hold on, honey.” She held him close against her own body. “Of all people, I feel your anguish. You know my feelings about these things.” His story was even more devastating than hers, and she hoped to deflect his pain. “Come on into the house, I’ve supper nearly ready.” She pulled him along with her. The anguish in his deep gray eyes hurt her terribly and made her feel sick inside.

Maybe a cup of coffee and something to eat would help. “I don’t know how to help you with this, and as you know, something like a lost child sends a part of me into a raging fire.” She sat him in a chair, uttered a helpless laugh, knowing he understood her meaning.

“I’d give Serena a damned solid gold medal, and a great big one, if I could.” He laughed, giving her a look. “And I know just where I’d pin it, too.” He leaped up and grabbed for her, kissing her into near oblivion. “You know how to help me—and you damned well know it, girl.”

“You’re an animal if I don’t watch out for you, Mr.—” Martha’s eyes shone with joy while she chastised him. For a few stolen moments, they forgot all the heartache the outside world had to offer. She sat on his lap, nestled her body against his chest, reached up, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him until he was ready to drag her bodily to the bed.

“Oh, no you don’t! Supper’s ready, and you need to eat.” It wasn’t fair, and she knew it, after she had him so very ready for the bedroom. She giggled as she struggled off his lap. Moving into the kitchen, Martha set about dishing up the food. Harry sat there watching her through narrowed eyes. A twitching of his lips matched that devil’s shine in those gray eyes that always thrilled her to the depths. “Now move up here and get at it.” She took her seat across from him and, in the joy of togetherness, they ate their dinner.

He tore into a soft roll and buttered it lavishly before he sopped the gravy from the meatloaf and shoved it into his mouth. How she loved watching him eat. The way his jaw worked and the movements of his face were very masculine and different. For some reason, a small thing like that had always fascinated her. She never tired of feeding this man or lying in bed with him, either.

“Say, now, this is good. You’re a mighty fine cook, girl, you do that the same as you do everything else.” His eyes burned with the passion he held for her. A wild surge of happiness swept through her, knowing she could do this much for him. His pain had dissipated since they’d been together. She knew how to keep his thoughts occupied, at least for the present, though some things never really left the mind. She knew that well enough, too.

She reluctantly brought up something that had continually plagued and taunted her. “Harry, I don’t want to upset you but I’ve been looking on the internet for something, and I believe I’ve found it.”

“Now, what?”

His caution was evident, and his tone reflected it. She hated to continue. But she kept on and watched as his fingers gripped the arm of his chair, matching the tightening of his long jaw.

“I think I know how I could put some of these monsters out of commission without bringing suspicion on myself.” Waiting for his reply, her heart raced uncontrollably, while she swallowed her fear of his opinion.

“Yeah?” His face held an expectant look, but he held his council and waited for her to begin. It was important to her, and he indulged her.

“Well, if they didn’t know what had been done to them, just a simple assault with robbery as the intent, no one would connect me with a thing like that, or look in my direction, now would they?”

“Maybe not. What are you thinking?” His narrowed eyes had darkened and his voice, tightly controlled, had lowered.

“There is a medication used on dogs, well actually on puppies. It’s a new product, used for chemical sterilization—injectable, too, no cutting, no bleeding,” she quipped, grinning. He said nothing and she went on, “Getting it and determining the proper dosage is the major concern.” She waited. “You’re not saying anything.”

“I admit, you’ve got me thinking about it. I can’t deny how I feel about that business, any more than you can. The things you’ve done have become an integral part of both of us.” Distress came over his face. “But now that I’ve found you, I fear losing you during one of these escapades, Martha. That worries me the most.”

“I feel that way, too, and certainly don’t relish spending my last years in prison, but I can’t stop thinking about those innocent kids. I’ll never forget how it hurts a child. My Will is better these days, growing older, but those shadows have never left his eyes. You’ve seen him enough times to know what I mean. Can he really become a normal man after what was done to him?” She shuddered. “What horrible memories—or feelings does he have or see in his mind, and hides them from us?”

“Martha, I totally understand. You have your grandson, damaged as he may be, but I’ll never see my little girl grow up, go to a prom, fight off her boyfriends—none of that—not ever.” He twisted in his seat, his face a pale mask of pain. “It’s something to think about. Might have a way to take care of a few, but you know we’ll never get them all.” He shivered involuntarily. “My God in heaven, Martha, this is fast becoming a very sick world.” He frowned and his brow wrinkled. “Tell me what you’ve learned. Maybe I can help with it.”

He looked at her. All romance had fled the scene as he waited to hear what she had to tell him.

“I know we have to get our dogs fixed soon. That is, if we plan on that.” They were his dogs, and the decision would be his as well. “Looking on the internet, there are several options these days. The one item that sparked my interest is called Neutersol. It’s not totally perfected, but it is injected and shrinks those little trouble makers down to uselessness in most cases.”

She watched his eyes for his hidden opinion, imagining this sort of thing must go against the grain for any male.

Seeing no opposition, she continued, “We would need to scope out a few of those many predators and be sure to target the right ones, but a simple mugging, disguised as a robbery and assault might work.”

“I believe you’re assuming he won’t notice sore testicles?” He laughed. “Even a little bit?”

“Not if the assaulter did a little extra kicking around.” She tried not to giggle. “I could add some Novocain.”

The shine in her eyes told him Serena had quickly wormed her way into this project, if she hadn’t instigated it in the first place. Serena was definitely the major player. Neither he or Martha had any illusions about that.

“I’ll find a few good suspects for you—Serena.” He smiled and nodded to her, his eyes narrowed. “I wouldn’t mind knocking off a few of the bastards myself, you know that. There are always some under the radar, abusing their own kids, hammering their wives, and who knows what abuse goes on inside their neighbor’s homes? Add to that, the legally registered ones so kindly let out on bail by our politically correct judicial system.”

She watched the heat of his anger rising and felt the closeness of it, because it was a part of her, too. It made them both uncomfortable at the helplessness they so often felt. She agreed with his comment when he said with a grim smile, “We’d have to be careful, my darling.” He had a look of deviltry across his face as he snorted. “They mollycoddle these devils and would certainly look your way if anything took place that closely resembled those things in your past.”

Martha replied, “Why can’t they just lock them all away? I don’t get this new way of thinking. You and I know, and so do they. The recidivism rate among child predators is nearly one hundred percent. This whole country’s crawling with men looking for some small child to savage for a few moments of gratification.”

He saw her rising agitation. “Hey, want me to do up the dishes.” He rose to grab the dirty plates and headed for the kitchen sink.

“You’re trying to settle me down, and I appreciate it, Harry, but oh how good it’d feel to know a few more of them are out of commission.” Her head came up, and she looked him in the eye. Knowing he wasn’t totally against her idea made her pulse rate speed up with intent.

“You’re something, you are, girl.” He reached for her with hands wet from cleaning up. “Now where were we when you made me sit down to supper?”

He heard her shriek with joy and kept on until they headed for the bedroom.

Later, they sat in front of the television, looking for something to watch that wouldn’t hurt. The last thing he needed was a news flash about that little girl, yet it was splashed on nearly every channel, forcing them to face it and work it out emotionally. He’d lost his own little girl a few years before in exactly this same way, and that horror haunted him in unguarded moments. They each had personal ghosts. Each knew and understood the pain of the other.

© 2018 by Ramona Forrest