Last Mile (Vicious Cycle #3) - Katie Ashley

My thanks first and foremost go to God, from whom all blessings flow, and my cup certainly runneth over personally and professionally.

To my agent extraordinaire, Jane Dystel, who always has my best interests at heart in both my personal and professional lives. Here’s to many more successful years together.

To my NAL editor, Kerry Donovan, thank you for being such a pleasure to work with on this series. Thanks for ensuring the books were the best they could be, for allowing me to keep as much control of my “babies” as possible, and for being there when I needed you.

Thanks forever and always to Kim Bias for talking me down from the ledge, working me through the plot points and being my first reader, doing daily writing goal check-ins via text, and generally making my books and my life so much better. Love ya hard, woman!

To Marion Archer—I could not and would not put out a book without your amazing feedback. I’m forever shaking my head at your comments and wondering, “Now, why didn’t I think of that?” Most of all, I thank you for your friendship. Your prayers and support from across the ocean get me through.

To my cousin Kim Holcombe, and my friends Kristi Hefner, Gwen McPherson, Kim Benefield, Tiffany Allred, Brittany Haught, and Michelle Eck—thank you so much for taking such good care of me and Olivia during the first days and weeks of her life. That tender care greatly enabled me to finish this book. I love you all so very, very much!

To Katie Brown and Stephanie Frady: Thanks for watching Olivia to give me some writing time . . . and some sleep!

To my babysitter, Robin Riddle, thanks for taking such great care of Olivia and me so that I could do all things writerly without worrying about Miss O.

Cris Hadarly, my dearest friend and greatest book supporter. We may be oceans apart, but I couldn’t ask for a better person to be in my corner. I will forever be in your debt for your unfailing contributions to my writing career. Thanks for going along on the crazy roller-coaster ride that has been the past three years. I love you with all my heart.

Jen Gerchick, Jen Oreto, and Shannon Furhman: Thanks for your unfailing support of me and my books—it means so much that you’ve embraced us. Most of all, I appreciate your friendship, which sustains me during the good and bad times.

To my street team, Ashley’s Angels, thanks for the love and support!

To the ladies of the Hot Ones—Karen Lawson, Amy Lineweater, Marion Archer, and Merci Arellano—thanks for your friendship, book support, naughty memes that make me laugh, and hours of Zoom chats. They mean the world to me.

To my naughty sistas of the Smutty Mafia: Thanks for keeping me sane and making me laugh!

To Kristi Hefner, Gwen McPherson, Brittany Haught, Kim Benefield, Jamie Brock, and Erica Deese for being the bestest friends a gal could ever ask for. I thank God for having you all in my life for so long.


Knives and forks clanging together mixed with idle conversation echoed through the dining room and grated on eight-year-old Samantha Vargas’s last nerve. Peering out into the hallway, she eyed the golden hands of the antique grandfather clock for the millionth time. It was almost seven, and her father was now thirty minutes late. While her mother and siblings seemed unaffected by his tardiness, she was on pins and needles awaiting his presence in the house.

“Ignoring your food isn’t going to make Daddy get home any sooner,” her mother chided, motioning her fork at Sam’s untouched plate. “Eat up.”

With a sigh of frustration, Sam picked up her fork and started poking at the food that was usually her favorite but tonight held no appeal at all. She brought some of the arroz con pollo to her lips. Just as she was about to take a bite, her ears perked up at the hum of a car’s motor. When a door slammed outside, Sam jerked her head up. “He’s here!” she cried, flinging herself out of her chair.

As her black Converse tennis shoes beat a hot path out of the dining room, her mother called, “Samantha Eliana Vargas, get back here and finish your dinner!”

Ignoring her mother’s command, she sprinted down the hallway and threw open the front door. She barreled forward off the porch and onto the path, where she jumped into her father’s arms.

He dropped his briefcase onto the concrete, unable to juggle them both.