“He’s one of the most vile, dangerous human beings I’ve ever come across. Best not to fuck with him. He will kill you.”
My boss’s words filtered into my mind just before yanking open the door to the local biker bar. What the hell. I enjoyed fucking with assholes who believed themselves bigger than the law.
The second I walked into the local dive I was tossed directly into the middle of a bar fight.
“No, fuck you!”
The two brawny men were going at it hard, beating the shit out of each other. I had a difficult time closing the door as they took clumsy swings at each other. The snow was blowing inside, adding a chill to my already frozen body. I hated frigid temperatures, snow piling on the streets, ice clinging to my hair. Maybe I just hated being pulled out of my comfy bed to chase a bad guy at the last minute. The freak snowstorm was expected to last at least another day. Just my bad luck.
One of the brutes went down hard, splintering the chunky wooden table that had obviously seen better days. It seemed everyone in the two-bit bar was cheering for one or the other. And I could easily tell they were all drunk as skunks. What the hell else was there to do in a small town covered in fifteen inches of snow?
I managed to sidestep the mass of men, all hungry for the night’s share of violence, and headed straight for the bar. I yanked the hood from around my face, fighting to keep from taking a deep breath. The joint had a rank stench of stale cigarettes and booze. While the atmosphere was dank, ugly, and dark even with the fading neon lights, the place somehow managed to be festive.
Maybe that had to do with the twelve-plus televisions blaring whatever shit sports program was on. Hell, even the reception was for shit but the few men who weren’t glued to the night’s entertainment were staring wide-eyed at the various screens, beers in their hands. I sauntered toward the bar, cognizant that I was one of four, count them, four women in the place.
And at least a few of the hungry men had noticed my arrival.
When I was only two feet from the bar, I scanned the room in a nonchalant fashion. I certainly didn’t want to scare off my target. I’d already chased him for two days and I was pissed off for having to do so. The man was cagey, but at least I didn’t think he was aware anyone was onto him. Figures he’d hide out in some shit hole of a bar. I had no doubt he was preparing to hightail it into Canada. Then things would get dicey.
At least the Beretta 9m secured inside my holster gave me some comfort.
“What’ll ya have?” The bartender leaned over the scratched wooden surface, dark eyes boring into mine. This was a local joint and I was completely out of place.
“Just information.” I had to jerk off my gloves before I could snag my cell phone from my jeans pocket. I maneuvered to a series of pictures, holding up a fairly decent shot of my target. “You seen this guy around here before?”
If the man snagged a single look, it was only for a split second. He was far too interested in allowing his gaze to fall to my breasts. Even though I was covered in three layers of clothing, he obviously found the sight of me titillating.
“I asked you a question.” I slid back my coat just enough to highlight my service weapon. He didn’t seem surprised in the least, merely amused.
The bartender grabbed a towel, wiping the top of the bar. “Around here people come to drink.” He continued slapping the terrycloth over the surface, his eyes never leaving me. “So I’ll ask you again. What’ll ya have?”
The cocksucker was playing hardball. Fine. Dandy. Two could play at this game. “Tequila. Straight up.”
He gave me another look, his eyes flitting further down before grabbing a shot glass from the shelf behind him. The solid thud on the bar was no doubt meant to terrify me. Instead, it just pissed me the hell off.
And that wasn’t something anyone wanted to do.
He exaggerated the pour from the rotgut bottle, but I’d already turned mostly away, still searching the crowded bar. There were plenty of men fitting the perpetrator’s description, but none with that certain look of a killer. Unfortunately, there were a few of them determined to get closer to the bar.
As if I was going to give them the time of day.
I heard the scratching of the glass against the surface as the bartender slid the shot in my direction. I wasted no time. I was tired, cranky, and if I didn’t accomplish my task in the next twenty-four hours, I’d lose my bounty. And I needed the money.
I tossed back the tequila, actually enjoying the burn sliding down the back of my throat. I locked eyes with the bartender as I slammed the empty glass on the bar, smiling seductively as I leaned over the bar. “Now, we’re going to try this again.” I held up the picture one more time. “I’m here for one reason and that doesn’t include being fucked with. Have you seen this man? I’ll know if you lie, and you won’t like me very much if you do.”
He hesitated, a snarl replacing his charismatic grin. As he reached his hand across the bar to retrieve the glass, I leaned even closer.
“And I am an expert shot.” I knew I was pushing my luck, but I’d run out of patience.
He took a deep inhale before nodding toward the left side of the bar. “Card game.”
I shoved my hand into my back pocket, tossing a twenty-dollar bill on the counter. “Keep the change and your mouth shut.” I could hear him cursing under his breath as I headed in the direction he’d sent me. Seemed like my luck had changed.
About damn time.
I had less than five hundred dollars to my name at this point, the last few months testing my resolve. This particular bounty was well worth the travel and the potential danger. The man had walked out on five hundred thousand dollars’ worth of bail money. My take was more than I’d ever made in a year, worth the travel, the risk, and the lack of sleep. Besides, I could handle the job better than most, even if the fugitive was highly trained, skilled in several areas of weaponry. How the bastard had managed to get bail in the first place was beyond me. With a nickname like The Marksman, his expertise should have been a huge red flag.
Story of our justice system.
At least I could reap the benefits.
Reading his file was a who’s who of ‘how to become a hero.’ A college educated and decorated Marine who’d been recruited to the DEA for his special skills and bravery. What a slide into hell.
What was worse? I already knew him in more of a biblical sense, although I’d doubt he’d remember. A dark bar. A few too many drinks. Savage fondling in the bathroom. The one-night stand that soon followed was something I had difficulty forgetting, even though the limited time we’d shared shouldn’t matter to any degree. This was business and that had been years before.
Then why was I quivering at the thought of seeing him again?
I crept along the wall, trying not to lock eyes with anyone else. This needed to be clean. I noticed a secluded room nestled in the back and from where I stood, I was able to see a small portion of the interior. There were at least five men. From the looks of it, my target had his back to the door. A huge mistake on his part, careless in a manner the information provided on him didn’t indicate was possible. The man was a brutal killer, easily able to keep under the radar.
I unfastened the snap on my holster, just in case, but I had another weapon in mind. The sneers on two of the card players’ faces were enough to give me away, their eyes full of unmistakable lust. The broad shoulders of the man whose back was directly in front of me stiffened. He placed his hands on the table and slowly began to stand.
“What’s a babe like you doing in here?” one of the guys asked.
I remained quiet, taking a single step to the side. I didn’t want the target to have any chance of backhanding or kicking out. He was also an expert in martial arts. As he rose to his full height, I realized I’d forgotten just how tall he was. Standing at nearly six and a half feet, he had to outweigh me by a solid hundred and fifty pounds.
All of it brawn and muscle.
“Brax Marks?” I finally asked.
All four of the other men backed away, their eyes registering my Beretta.
“What’s it to you?” Brax asked as he took his time, tossing back his drink without looking or turning in my direction.
We’d played this cat and mouse for two days, the man eluding me mere minutes before I’d found him the last time.
I didn’t want to admit that I was still attracted to him. He was the kind of man who could toss you over his shoulder with ease and I knew from experience that he was a rough man in all ways.
I swallowed hard, a rush of images from the passionate encounter shooting butterflies into my stomach.
He had an aura of quiet sophistication even in his well-worn clothes and thick boots. He was all things male, reeking of testosterone.
I gripped the barrel of my gun, mortified at my drifting thoughts.
“Honey, I think you got the wrong establishment,” a second man offered up, daring to take two steps closer.
For some reason just hearing the man’s condescending voice ignited a fuse that threatened to detonate, destroying the entire building. That’s the last thing they should want.
“Any closer and I’ll make certain you can’t walk for a solid week. You got it?” My comment seemed to delight the entire room, four of the five laughing.
Only Brax wasn’t the least bit amused. He turned slowly, tilting his head when he finally laid eyes on me. If there was any recognition at all, he hid it well, his demeanor as cold as the heinous acts he’d been accused of performing. “You can call me Stone.”
Stone indeed. He was built like a brick shithouse, dominating in every manner, the sheer power of him magnificent. However, the nickname wasn’t anywhere in the documentation on him I’d been given. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say it was his undercover name.
He certainly didn’t look like any DEA agent that I’d worked with before. He hadn’t even joined the force on the night I met him, just a brawny Marine looking for a good time.
His blue eyes dazzled even in the dim lighting, luminescent in a way that created a wave of heat between my legs, so powerful and seductive. There wasn’t a portion of his body that hadn’t been carved from some beautiful piece of granite, his muscles bulging even through the bulky clothes. Even though his angular jaw was clenched, a two-day stubble covering a good portion of his face, there was no hiding how freaking gorgeous he was.
Even my nipples reacted instantly, fully aroused and painful against the tight confines of my bra. He had a dangerous look about him, a badass in a tight pair of faded blue jeans. Everything about the man was hard, with the exception of his full lips. Succulent.
Just like they’d been before.
And what the fuck was I thinking?
I never had this kind of reaction, especially to an asshole perp who’d gunned down two federal agents. I made certain he was able to catch a glimpse of my weapon, just in case he thought about reaching for one of his.
The last thing I needed was for the man to recognize me. Thank God I’d used my middle name all those years ago. I’d always been careful around men, especially sexy ones hitting on me in a bar.
“Come here, baby girl. I’m gonna lick that pretty little pink pussy of yours until you explode into my mouth. After I’ve licked up every sweet drop, I’m going to fuck you hard.”
I bit back a damn moan as I remembered the dirty words, the way his cock filled me completely, leaving me aching for days. I was a professional and he’d turned into a violent criminal.
End of story.
“Mr. Marks, I’m Harper Rollins. I work with the Justice Department and I’ve come to escort you back to jail.”
Stone seemed more than amused, his eyes lighting up as he slowly lowered his gaze down to my scuffed boots and back up. “That so?” He reached out, grabbing his drink.
“What the hell?” one of the hulking men said, deciding to take two long strides away from me.
As Stone brought the glass to his lips, he closed his eyes, gulping almost half.
“This true, buddy? You runnin’ from the law?”
Stone turned his head in the man’s direction, a snarl curling on his upper lip. “None of your damn business.”
“We’re through with bullshit chitchat,” I said as I knocked the glass out of his hand, the edge hitting the table and shattering before dropping onto the floor.
That was the single distraction he seemed to need. In the next second, he was all over me, one hand wrapped around my wrist in an attempt to yank me to the floor. He didn’t seem to realize that my training was just as good, if not better than his.
I jerked back, swiveling and issuing a swift kick. The force knocked him backward and over the chair. The entire room seemed shocked at my actions.
And my ability.
“Now, we can do this the easy way or the hard way and honestly, I’m in a shitty mood so I suggest you go ahead and try some crap like that again.” I walked forward, hearing the jeers and snickers from behind me. Then I held out my hand to offer my assistance.
Just for the fuck of it.
Stone was expressionless, hesitating as he narrowed his eyes. I could swear I noticed a glimmer of recognition. Then he reached out. The bastard had underestimated me. The second our hands touched, he clamped down his hold, pulling himself to a standing position and jerking me against the heat of his body.
His big, brawny, sexy body.
“Why don’t we take a minute to get to know each other before you fuck me,” Stone growled.
I gave him a sweet smile, dragging my tongue across my lips. “Trust me, you couldn’t handle me.” The thrill of the chase wasn’t nearly as tasty as the actual catch. The reminder was just what I needed.
As the others huffed and laughed, Stone merely held his breath and I could swear he’d connected directly with my very soul.
“I guess we’ll see,” he whispered in a gravelly voice.
I was damn good at reading people, easily able to get into their psyche. I knew exactly the second that he was going to make a break for it.
That’s the same second I yanked the Taser from my jacket pocket. The crackling, zapping sound shut the others up in an instant, the voltage knocking my perp onto the floor. I gave a sigh of relief before hunkering down and tugging out my handcuffs. The man was like a dead weight and I had difficulty trying to roll him over.
What the hell.
I snapped the cuffs on his wrists, making certain they were plenty tight for a big man like Stone. He wasn’t going anywhere. That’s the exact moment I noticed the local sheriff standing in the main part of the bar. He wasn’t the nicest member of law enforcement, but I figured he had his hands full.
And my luck continued to improve. Fantastic. Now I didn’t even have to cart Stone over to the jail and drop his ass off until I could arrange a flight in the morning. I moved out into the bar, noticing a crowd had already formed, all trying to see how some five foot six chick had managed to snag a boulder like Brax Marks.
“Sheriff.” He was busy lecturing one of the brawlers and while he didn’t bother to look in my direction, he held up his hand as if instructing me to wait.
I wasn’t good at following rules. Besides, I wouldn’t put anything past Stone at this point. With his capture, bail would be revoked, ending his freedom likely for the rest of his life.
The brute had nothing to lose by attempting another escape.
“With all due respect, Sheriff Peck, I think your country boys can wait for a just a minute. I need your assistance as I mentioned before that I might.” The sheriff knew exactly why I’d flown all the way to his town. Given his surly attitude, I would have thought he would be jumping for joy that I’d been able to quickly apprehend a noted killer.
He didn’t seem to give a shit one way or the other.
Disgusted, I knew better than to leave my bounty alone for very long. When I walked back into the room, Stone was nowhere to be found. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!” Even the other assholes had left, running away like scared little kids.
I felt a presence behind me and bristled, slapping my hand on my gun. The way his hot breath skipped along the back of my neck was far too stimulating, making me gasp. Every nerve was standing on end, my heart pumping blood so fast it pulsed in my ears.
“You’re frightened of me,” Stone stated in a dominating manner.
“I’m frightened of very little.” Thank God I’d cuffed him.
I turned around to face him, pointing the barrel of my gun against his chest. “I rarely lie. I’m not frightened of the likes of you.”
A smile curled on the corner of his mouth, one of knowing.
I took a decided step back, yanking him with me and toward the doorway, giving the sheriff a nasty glare as he finally lumbered in my direction. I noticed the crowd was watching intently and slipped my gun back into the holster. Then I patted Stone down, yanking the Glock from the holster under his shirt.
“You enjoy feeling me up, sweetheart?” Stone growled half under his breath.
“I suggest you shut the fuck up or I might use this on you.” My retort might not be professional, but I knew the asshole needed to have a commanding tone. I also realized he was a very careful man, his training preventing him from being caught with his pants down.
So to speak.
I crouched down as the crowd continued to wrap around us, patting first one leg then the other. I could hear the snickers from the various burly men, the nasty comments about exactly where they’d like me to place my hands.
Only if I had a metal vise in them.
The second weapon was expertly hidden. Sighing, I jerked his jeans up a few inches, revealing the large hunter’s knife. “Interesting. Going hunting, Mr. Marks?”
“Only for sweet things that taste delicious.”
His remark only further pissed me off, but I was well aware he was goading me. I slipped the entire sheath behind my back, glaring at the few closest men. They really didn’t want to fuck with me right now. I’d had almost no sleep and the coffee in this town was terrible. Bitter. When I rose to my feet, I moved the fugitive closer to the door. The damn sheriff was grinning at me, his goofy expression a reminder of some bad Southern movie. Still, I kept my cool.
There was no sense creating a scene or scaring the locals. Not for a piece of shit like Stone.
“Well, well, little miss. I see you caught your man,” the sheriff spouted, winking.
The fool actually winked at me.
Cool it. Don’t get pissed off.
That wouldn’t do me any good. “Really wasn’t that hard. I’m surprised you and your crack team hadn’t been able to do it.” A few snickers from the patrons definitely irritated the sheriff. “Now, I’m going to place him in your custody until I can charter a flight. I’m certain you can handle him.” Cooperation with the Spokane law enforcement had already been prearranged, but I’d tracked him further north to the sleepy little town. I’d made certain to have a brief conversation with the sheriff on my arrival, not that he was too keen on helping some unknown bounty hunter.
Then I’d forced him to make a few phone calls and he’d changed his tune.
The sheriff shook his head, a grin covering his face. “No can do, Ms. Rollins. We’re all full at the inn.”
“I beg your pardon?” The asshole had to be kidding me. We were in the middle of a snowstorm. I wasn’t going to drive to another county hoping they would oblige a bounty hunter from several states away.
“You heard me. Storms like this tend to bring out the violence. The jail is full. You should know many of the roads are shut down as well.”
I could hear the slight chuckle coming from Stone’s mouth. I had to count to five in order to keep my voice down. “We had an arrangement.”
“Blame that on Mother Nature. I can certainly hook you up with a charter service, an experienced pilot that might be able to get you out of here tomorrow if the storm breaks. That’s about all I can do. You’re going to have to hunker down for the night.”
With a monster?
I heard the words the sheriff was saying but the ringing in my ears matched the hard thumping of hammers behind my eyes. This was turning out to be a nightmare. “And exactly what am I supposed to do with the prisoner overnight?”
“You seem to know how to handle yourself. You did rent one of those cabins I recommended, didn’t you?”
Yeah, I’d rented a one-bedroom shack that had definitely seen better days. “Over my dead body.”
“Then I don’t know what to suggest,” the sheriff mused, his attention drawn by apparently yet another brawl. “I’ll give the pilot your cell phone. Sorry but I have business to attend to.”
I stood gawking at him as he walked into the crowd.
The man had to be kidding me.
“Seems like you’re stuck with me,” Stone said under his breath.
I’d never been put in this kind of position before. Granted, this was only my third capture since accepting the position. Shit. Shit. Shit. “Just shut the hell up while I think.”
“Where do you think I’m going to go?” he asked as he turned in my direction.
I had another set of handcuffs in the rental Jeep, and enough ammunition to track him down if he ran. I could chain him to the bed or a chair, take away his boots and jacket. Even if he did try to escape, he certainly wouldn’t get very far. And the truth was, I’d shoot his ass if he dared try to fuck with me.
Rules or no rules.
History or no history.
“Fine. Here’s how we’re going to play this. Instead of locking you up in my car, which is more than you deserve, you’re going to be a really good boy for me tonight. You give me any trouble and you’re going to find yourself with a bullet in your kneecap. Understood?”
“I do so love threats from beautiful women.”
What a piece of work. I dragged him through the crowd, resisting biting back at the sneers and catcalls. I’d had my share over the last few months.
This was going to be one long ass night.
“Sit with your hands behind the chair,” I instructed after kicking the cabin door shut. I was shaking like a leaf and in truth, I doubted it had anything to do with the cold. The adrenaline was flowing, my head thumping and my wits ripped into shreds. When I called my boss, I knew the man was going to be pissed. I could only hope he was going to rip the sheriff a new one.
Stone stood in the same spot, his eyes twinkling as if he held some kind of secret. “Aren’t you going to make me more comfortable, take my coat off?”
“You don’t deserve any concept of comfort. Sit. The. Fuck. Down.”
After a few seconds, he issued a low-slung growl, no doubt meant to scare me, but finally obeyed, the hard thump of his muscular body hitting the solid wood ringing in my ears.
I gathered a whiff of him, some kind of cheap cologne mixed with the scent of pine, and nearly gagged. When I heard another chuckle I almost slammed the butt of my gun against his head. I knew he was trying to rattle me, the asshole. Well, he had another think coming. I’d been through a hell of a lot worse than wrestling with a criminal.
The gun within reach, I removed one of the cuffs, winding it through the rungs of the heavy wooden chair before snapping the stainless steel back around his wrist. I gave it a hard tug, satisfied. There was no way for him to get away.
Standing back, I rubbed my hands together before dragging the scarf from around my neck and dumping my coat onto the couch. Next, I unloaded his knife and gun, carefully easing both onto the coffee table. I’d tag and bag them later.
After one tall drink.
Stone studied me, those same gorgeous eyes raking down the length of my body. I’d never felt so undressed in my life, as if I was standing completely naked in front of him. Another round of images popped into my mind, the almost violent shiver threatening to give me away.
I could hear the howling winds, tree limbs scratching at the window. I fought to keep from jumping every time that happened. I certainly wasn’t going to seem nervous around him.
I was well trained, majoring in criminal justice and criminal psychology. I knew the way a man like Brax Marks thought, the burning need to rebel against those intent on incarcerating him. I also knew what he was capable of, acts of violence and brutality, even murder. He was as dirty as they came. The man would likely sell his soul for a profit.
What the hell had happened to him? There had been no indication he was violent during our… heated round of sex. In fact, he’d been sweet, caring. What horror or tragedy had changed him?
I had to remind myself that fifty k was on the line for a job well done. That would hopefully lead to other high-profile cases. The nerves were getting the better of me and I did something I wouldn’t ordinarily do in front of a perp. I poured a hefty amount of bourbon into a glass.
He was still watching me, no doubt amused as I took a sip then a gulp. Well, fuck him. I had the upper hand. He finally seemed to grow bored of the spectacle in front of him, shifting his gaze to the perimeter.
“You need a fire.” His words were out of the blue and strange as fuck.
“We’ll be fine. We’re leaving bright and early,” I answered.
I was growing angry at his nasty tone. After taking another sip, my grip white-knuckled on the thick crystal, I put the glass down on the counter without smashing it. Yay, me. Then I grabbed my phone. The reception was even shittier than before. I could only pray the call went through. Thank God, it was ringing.
“Frank?” I gave a sigh of relief. “I can barely hear you.” The man’s voice was garbled at first.” Why was Stone sneering at me? I turned in several directions until the signal became stronger, forced to crowd close to the wall. “Okay, that’s better. I got him.” Even my fingers were tingling. “Yeah, I know. Crazy. Anyway, I can’t get out until the morning.”
Frank was far too giddy. We were a small firm, little fish in big waters. He’d taken a chance on hiring me, against just about everyone’s advice.
“No, the sheriff is being an asshole, but he’s going to talk to a pilot. Big storm.” I realized that telling him I was housing the fugitive wasn’t in my best interest. I could explain all the gory details when the job was completed.
“Okay, but look…” I wasn’t able to finish my sentence. The crackling on the line quickly went to dead air. “Fuck.” I held the phone to my head, still shaking.
At least my boss knew all was well.
I was prepared for the usual snide comments from Stone, ready to launch into him simply because he’d managed to get on my nerves.
You mean under your skin.
Not in this lifetime.
No matter how delicious his cock had felt.
At least I could get the guy a blanket.
When you spend the majority of your career in law enforcement, your instinct is sometimes the only thing that keeps you alive. In a flash, I’d realized that I hadn’t paid enough attention to mine and I was going to pay for it.