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The Mark

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Two for the money . . .
Identity thief Lauren Kelly thought she was safe. The millions she stole from her double-crossing accomplice and ex-lover Matt Connors bought a quiet upscale life for her, her unsuspecting new husband Derek, and their precious baby. But betrayal was just the beginning . . .

Three to throw down . . .
When both Derek and the baby go missing, it’s courtesy of a vengeful Matt. Lauren has less than twenty-four hours to give him back the money. She’s prepared for any payback—but nothing can keep this exchange from going all-the-way wrong . . .

No price is too high . . .
Now Lauren lives to hunt Matt down. She’ll strip away his fortune, work all his weaknesses—and destroy his every strength. But she’s heading straight into an insidious trap that could turn sweet revenge into mutually-assured destruction . . .

Praise for The Score

“A well-crafted plot. Pitch-perfect dialogue, juicy sexual trysts, cold-blooded betrayal, and ruthless violence.” —Library Journal (Starred Review)

“Treachery, betrayal and revenge add to the twists and turns. . . . Loved it!”
RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

ISBN-13: 9781496712363

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Kensington

Publication Date: 10-31-2017

Pages: 272

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Series: The Score Series

Kiki Swinson is the nationally bestselling author of over forty novels and short stories. Swinson’s works feature resilient women making tough—and sometimes not quite legal—decisions to survive. Her novels, inspired by her experiences and a five-year stint in federal prison, have sold over 2.4 million copies. She completed her first novel while incarcerated and her second novel, Wifey, went on to become a #1 Essence bestseller and the first installment in one of today’s most popular urban series. A native of Portsmouth, Virginia—and a former hustler’s wife—Swinson resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Visit her online at

Read an Excerpt

The Mark

By Kiki Swinson


Copyright © 2017 Kiki Swinson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61773-971-2



I can't believe I finally got the life I've always wanted. It seemed like it was yesterday when I left Virginia from a life of crime. Even though I was on the run, I met and married the man I love and finally have a baby. No one would've ever told me that I was going to leave Matt, the hustler I'd been with since forever, after all he and I had been through. But him screwing around on me with Yancy changed everything. Taking all the money that he, Yancy, and I stole was the best revenge plot I could've ever mustered up. It felt good to be the last woman standing. It also helped me that after I ran off with the money, Matt and Yancy both got arrested. But Matt wasn't away for long.

Now here I was in my hospital room, looking at a man I'd hoped to never see again. I'd just delivered my baby boy and everything was supposed to be right in my world. But here he is, turning my dreams for the future into a nightmare. After Matt told me he had a couple of people on the outside pay off a couple COs on the inside to help break him out of jail in exchange for some of the $3 million payout, I watched as he walked out of the hospital room with my baby in tow. My entire body cringed at the sight of him holding my infant baby. There was nothing I could do that would calm me down and quell the alarming fear that flitted through my stomach right then. "Matt," I sobbed, barely able to speak. "Please ... don't do this."

"Do what? Take your son like you took my motherfucking money?" he chuckled wickedly. I crinkled my eyebrows in response. He stopped laughing abruptly and started talking in a very serious tone. "Bitch, I want back every fucking dime you took from me. And just know that if you don't come off it, you will be making funeral arrangements for this little motherfucker right here," he barked. His words sunk in on me and I felt hopeless. I didn't know what the fuck I was going to do, but I knew I had to come up with his money or else.

The thought of him mishandling or mistreating my baby made me sick to my stomach. Thankfully, he grabbed a few Pampers and bottles of formula to carry along with him. I cried silently, avoiding any unwanted attention. But I knew that if I stayed around here much longer, either the doctors or nurses would know something was wrong after they found out my baby was nowhere around.

Still somewhat medicated, I got up on shaky legs, but I couldn't let that deter me from getting out of there. I got dressed pretty fast and managed to walk out of the hospital without being detected by the staff who were assigned to treat me.

When I arrived downstairs on the main floor, my body felt hot all over. I felt like I could just faint. But I pressed on and got into the first taxi I saw. I gave him my home address, sat back in the seat, and tried to pull myself together. I couldn't help but wonder whether Matt really had Derek like he insinuated, so I called his cell phone and prayed that he'd answer it. My call was picked up on the second ring. "Hello," I rushed to say.

All I got was laughter on the other end. The laughter came from Matt's voice. "Matt, where is Derek?" I asked. I was completely irritated by his insensitive behavior.

"I already told you where he was. Didn't you believe me?" he replied.

"I wanna speak to him now. I need to know if he's all right," I demanded.

"Hold on. Let me see if he's available." Matt continued his laughter.

The cell phone went silent for five long seconds. Then I heard my husband's voice. "Hello, Lauren, is this you?" Derek asked.

"Yes, baby, it's me. Are you all right?" I whined desperately. I needed answers and I needed them now.

"Yes, I'm fine."

"What about the baby? Is he all right? Has he been crying?"

"He's fine. He's drinking his bottle now," Derek replied, his voice sounding weary.

"Baby, don't worry. I'm gonna get you and our baby out of this okay," I tried to assure him.

"Now that's the spirit I like! Save your man and your baby!" Matt interjected. When I heard his voice, I knew that he had taken the phone from Derek.

"If you put your fucking hands on any one of them, I promise you'll fucking regret it!" I roared. I knew I couldn't actually speak of the money in front of the taxi driver nor the gun I was going to bring along with me when I finally met up with Matt to make the switch, so I said the next best thing. Matt knew what I meant.

"You only have twenty-four hours! So call me as soon as you pick up the money," he demanded, and then the call went dead.

Hearing Matt's usual warning play in my ears now made a huge lump in the back of my throat. Tears sprang up to my eyes, but I fought to keep them from falling. I couldn't let anyone know what was going on with me concerning Matt and my family. Letting someone know would be too risky. And I couldn't let anything happen to my family.

I swallowed hard and closed my eyes because I knew he wasn't going to let this go. I had to think quickly. This thing had gone from complicated to nightmarish. I was now responsible for two lives. Lives of two people I loved dearly.

I swear I blanked out after Matt disconnected our call. I had no idea I had arrived at my apartment building until the taxi driver announced it to me for the second time. "Ma'am, we are here at your destination," the taxi driver said.

I looked at the cabdriver and then I looked out the back-door window and realized that he was absolutely right. I was home, so I needed to pay him and continue on with my mission. I reached into my purse, grabbed thirty dollars, and paid him. Before he could give me my five dollars in change, I had already gotten out of the car and closed the door.

My family's life meant more to me than fucking five dollars. I walked into my apartment building as fast as I could, considering the amount of drugs I had in my system. The building doorman spoke to me upon opening the door. I spoke back without giving him eye contact. He knew I had been in the hospital to have the baby, so he made mention of it. "Ms. Kelly, where's the bundle of joy?" he asked cheerfully.

"He's still in the hospital with his dad," I yelled back without turning around. But the questions didn't stop there. He must've noticed the pain I was in when I walked by him because he asked me if I needed any help. "No, I'm good," I continued. I couldn't get on the elevator and away from that meddlesome doorman soon enough. As badly as I needed help to deal with getting my family back, I knew the doorman wouldn't be cut out for the job.

Thankfully, the elevator was empty when I got on it. When the elevator doors dinged open, the reality that Matt had resurfaced in my life had become a permanent fixture in my mind. I rushed through the elevator doors and sped down the long, carpeted hallway that led to my apartment. The hallway was pin-drop quiet as usual. In a ritzy building like that it was the norm. Although it was quiet and empty, I was looking around like a burglar about to rob someone's house; that is how nervous I felt. I don't know if I was nervous about going in my apartment or nervous about someone being there after I opened up the door.

My heart jerked in my chest as I reached down to unlock my door. Before I pushed the door open, I looked around again, paranoid that someone was watching me. But why? That damn hallway was empty as hell. So I pushed the door open and walked inside. Immediately after I closed the door and locked it, my mind was racing at an unbelievable speed. Trying to hatch a plan to get the money and get my baby and my man back was becoming a little more than I could bear. Deep down in my heart I knew I couldn't fuck this up. The depth of hatred that Matt had for me was indescribable. Not only had I robbed him of the heist he and I crafted together, I'd also left him and started another family. At this very moment, I needed to focus solely on giving Matt what he wanted. And if I didn't deliver the goods to him within twenty-four hours, I knew my family would die.

"Come on, Lauren, you can do this, baby girl," I started telling myself. I needed as much pep talk as I could get. "Get yourself together and go down to this bank and get that money so you can get your man and your baby back. They're all you have in this world. Fuck that money! Let that sorry-ass nigga have it. He needs it more than you."

I looked over at the clock on the DVR and noticed that I didn't have a lot of time before the bank closed. With my bank being ten blocks away from my apartment, I knew I had to hurry up, change clothes, and hop in the first taxi I saw. My family's lives depended on me.

On my way to my bedroom I had to walk past my baby's nursery. Derek and I designed this room ourselves. It was Derek's idea to paint the room blue, white, and yellow. But I picked out the thin-blue-striped wallpaper. His room was simply gorgeous. So when I entered it, my heart dropped at the sight of his empty, white, laced bassinette. Seconds later, tears formed and started falling from my eyes. Next thing I knew, I had broken down and started crying. All of the emotions I was feeling from the kidnapping consumed me. My baby wasn't supposed to be with Matt. He was supposed to be here with Derek and me. "God, please help me get my baby back!" I cried out after I fell down to my knees. "Lord, please don't let anything happen to my baby. He needs me, God! So please let me get him back safely. And I promise I will surrender my life totally to you, Lord!" I ended my prayer.

I think I wallowed in my sorrows for another ten minutes before I snapped out of it. Remembering I now had less than fifty minutes to dress and get the money got me back on my feet and focused. I wanted to take a shower but I couldn't. I didn't have enough time. Nor did I have the energy, so I took off everything I had on and slipped on a pair of dark brown cargo pants with pockets along the leg. Then I slipped on an old brown flannel shirt, two pairs of socks, a pair of tan Timberland boots, and a camouflage-designed cargo jacket. I looked like I was ready for war, but my body felt otherwise.

I looked back at the clock on the DVR and saw that another ten minutes had gone by. Panic-stricken, I grabbed an old backpack Derek owned that was on the floor of the hall closet. And then I grabbed his gun from the lockbox that was hidden in the back of the closet but on the top shelf. I wasn't going anywhere without it.

After I placed the pistol inside the backpack, I grabbed my house keys and two forms of ID from my purse and shoved all three items down inside the right front pocket of my pants. I was ready to get back what belonged to me and I was willing to risk my life to do it.



I don't know how, but my adrenaline was pumping at a fast pace as I moved from my apartment to the first floor of my building. Like clockwork, my doorman was waiting at the front entrance to open the door for me. And once again, he made it his business to ask me if I was all right. "Yes, I'm fine. But you can help me get a cab," I told him without giving him eye contact.

"Oh yes, of course," he said, and rushed outside to the curb after he held the door open for me. Within seconds, he flagged down a cab and held the door open for me to get inside. I thanked him and then I instructed the driver to take me to Citibank. The Haitian driver started the meter and then he sped off. I laid my head back against the headrest and thought about the possibilities that Matt could be hurting Derek and my son at that very moment. My poor babies. All of this shit happened because of me. It was my fault that I put them in this situation and now I had to make some moves to get them out of it.

As soon as the taxi pulled up in front of the bank I paid the driver and asked him to wait for me. After he demanded more money, I handed him a fifty-dollar bill and he agreed to do it. Immediately after the driver took the money, I slid out of the cab as quickly as I could without hurting myself. As I approached the bank, a nice gentleman held the door open for me. I thanked him and kept moving forward. I told a teller that I needed to get in my safe-deposit box, so she walked away from the counter to fetch the bank manager. Three minutes later a white woman approached me and introduced herself. After we shook hands, she escorted me to the vault located on the far side of the bank and led me into the area where the safe-deposit boxes were stored. Once she helped me pull out my box, she left me alone in the room so I could have my privacy. When I lifted the metal flap on the box, I saw exactly what I had come to the bank to get. There before my eyes was all the money I had left from the score. I knew it was $250,000 but I counted it again just to make sure. After I counted it, I stuffed every labeled $10,000 stack of bills into my bag and closed it. The customary thing to do would be to put the metal box back into the slot on the wall but I didn't have time for that. I had to get out of there. Time was winding down and I had to get my family back before Matt killed them.

* * *

The moment I walked outside of the bank, I pulled my cell phone out and made the call to Derek's phone. I knew Matt would answer it. "Hello," I heard Matt's voice say after he answered the call on the second ring.

"I have the money," I told him.

"Good. Where are you?" he wanted to know.

"I'm standing outside of the bank," I informed him.

"Come to Forty-Second Street in Manhattan and meet me in front of Grand Central Station," he instructed me, and then the line went dead.

Without hesitation I walked back to the cab that was waiting on me and slid into the backseat. "Take me to Grand Central Station," I instructed the driver.

"As you wish," the driver replied.

While the cabdriver dipped in and out of ongoing traffic, I wondered how this trade-off would go down. Matt only told me to meet him at Grand Central Station. Grand Central Station was a huge place, so he could hide anywhere without me knowing. I was worried that Matt would try to do something underhanded that would jeopardize my getting my family back. I swore on my family that if this were the case, then there would be some problems.

It didn't take the cabdriver long to get me to my destination. As soon as he made a right turn onto Forty-Second Street from Lexington Avenue, my heart started racing at an uncontrollable speed. I was so freaking afraid that I didn't immediately get out of the car when he announced that we had made it to the location. "Are you going to get out or what?" he asked me after I sat there for at least fifty seconds.

I looked at him and then I looked back out the rear passenger window. My feet felt like steel so I couldn't move them for anything. "Ma'am, you're gonna either pay me more money for me to stay parked here or you're gonna have to get out," the cabdriver expressed. I could tell that he was starting to get frustrated with me.

Part of me wanted to ask this man for his help, but then I realized that would be a bad idea. First of all, New Yorkers were known for not getting in strangers' public altercations. That was a no-no. They'd literally let you get killed in broad daylight and walk away from you like nothing happened. And in my case, I figured this cabdriver would do the exact same thing, so I kept my mouth closed and convinced myself that I had to do this alone.

After I paid the driver, I grabbed my bag of money and got out of the car. I didn't see which direction the cabdriver drove off in because I was so fixated on who I was going to walk into in this place. I stood a few feet away from the glass doors and called Derek's number back. Matt answered it on the second ring. "You here?" Matt didn't hesitate to ask.

"Yes, I'm here," I told him.

"Which side? What street?"

"I'm on the Forty-Second Street side."

"Got the money with you?"

"Yes, I got it in my backpack."

"Come inside and go into the women's restroom. Go into the last bathroom stall and wait there until I give you further instructions," he said, and then the call ended.

With my heart rate traveling at an uncontrollable speed, I braced myself because I wasn't sure what was coming next. But I pressed forward in the most courageous manner I could muster and walked inside Grand Central Station. Like always, this place was packed to the max. I surveyed the crowded station high and low for some sign of my husband and child on my way to the ladies' restroom, but they were nowhere in sight. Feeling somewhat hopeless I continued toward the restroom, praying that they would be there.


Excerpted from The Mark by Kiki Swinson. Copyright © 2017 Kiki Swinson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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