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Jonathon Reece read the detailed stat sheet, giving the grainy photos of an attractive brunette in the corner a cursory glance: the one on the right appeared to be a high school senior yearbook shot of Mara Findlay showing a clean-cut girl every guy in class likely panted over; the other was a mug shot of a woman with spiky blond hair and raccoon eyes, more wild animal than girl next door. The two were polar opposites, appearing to have no more connection to one another than a kitten did to a bobcat. He'd known his share of both, drawn more to the former than the latter.
Although this was the first time he was asked to hunt either down.
He looked across the desk at his boss, darius Fol-som.
"You up for it?" Darius asked.
Was he up for it? He'd been waiting for just such a solo assignment, to prove to his higher-ups that he was Lazarus Security material, not just capable in an ensemble assignment, but on his own, as well. And this, essentially a high-profile bounty hunter case, was right up his alley. Given his army ranger background, he knew he'd get his manor in this case, womanbefore any of the federal or local agencies, not to mention other bounty hunters. And he'd do it quick and be first in line for the next job.
"All over it," he said with a grin.
Darius got up from his chair and rounded the desk. "Good. You've got contact info should you need backup. Don't hesitate to use it."
"I won't." Only he didn't plan on needing any assistance. This was a clear-cut assignment. He had this.
Jon shook Darius's hand, and thanked him, then traded the stark office for the long corridor leading to the back entrance.
Lazarus Security was a newer operation, but already they were creating a name for themselves in the private sector, attracting high-profile cases and consistently delivering the goods. Not that Jonathon was surprised. Before he'd signed on, he'd heard of the five partners who, although not much older than him, were gaining mythical status within the military and personal security communities. Each had earned their stripes individually, but it was their combined story that guaranteed that whenever soldiers were gathered, active or veteran, it would be told.
He nodded at a new recruit, even as he took his cell phone out to make arrangements with Lazarus's go-to gal to catch the first flight out to Arizona.
The fact that Winslow was also his hometown was a bonus. He knew Arizona as well as he knew where the dust on the tops of his boots came from. He gave in to a small grin as he exited the building and climbed inside his old Jeep Wrangler, his gaze catching momentarily on the top-of-the-line shooting range and the new recruits being trained there by Megan McGowan.
He was really here, wasn't he?
Yes, he was.
And he intended to not only stay here, but become worthy of partner status in record time.
He started the Jeep, running down what he needed to do in his mind. He'd stop by the small rental house he'd just moved into with his girlfriend, Julie, grab the duffel he'd kept packed ever since becoming a ranger and then head to the airport.
Miss Mara Lynn Findlay didn't stand a chance .
There wasn't a chance in hell anyone would expect her to make an appearance back at her place. .
Mara Findlay gave her recently dyed brassy red hair a tousle so bangs fell over her green eyes and nudged her way past two slow moving passengers as she walked through Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport gate entrance into the terminal, her destination a long-term parking lot where she always kept a car. An old Chevy with no electronics that could be traced, much less lead, back to her.
The scent of freshly brewed coffee teased her and she stared hungrily at a small diner as she passed.
She'd been running nonstop for over two days and there was so much caffeine already in her system, she fairly vibrated. To add more to it would be nothing short of stupid. As soon as she did what she needed to do back at her warehouse apartment, she'd better find a place to get some solid sleep if she hoped to keep her wits about her.
And, oh, boy, did she ever need to keep her wits about her. .
Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into.
The Laurel and Hardy quote her father had been fond of usually made her smile, but it didn't now. Very few things were capable of making her smile right about then. Being wanted for murder tended to have that effect on a girl.
She hurried through the airport terminal, chin ducked down as she felt her way through her backpack for an energy bar.
She smacked headfirst into someone emerging from another arrival gate.
"Criminy, they put eyes in your head for a reason," she mumbled, crouching to pick up the bar that had fallen to the floor.
"Most probably so they could be poked out by the likes of someone like you," a man said.
She got the bar and began walking before she was even upright.
"Why, thank you for the reminder of why I'm still single," the man said.
Mara couldn't help herself. She smiled. She spared the guy a look and wasn't disappointed by what she sawtall, dark and sarcastic. Just her type.
While no one would describe her as short, this guy had her by at least five inches and was long and lean, somewhere around her age, and boasted blond surfer-dude good looks that normally might have repelled her but somehow didn't, in his case. Mainly because, while he might look like a surfer, she'd bet he didn't own a board and he probably only went into the water to swim for fitness, so his brain wasn't waterlogged and limited to the words awesome and dude.
No, this guy had militaryor ex-militarystamped all over him.
Too bad she was in such a hurry. She might have considered talking him into taking her back to his place, giving him a nice, long ride, then crashing for ten hours straight before hitting the ground running again.
Of course, despite his comment, he was probably as single as a two-dollar bill.
She gave him a two-finger salute and watched him first look at his cell phone, then return a half-assed smile that told her she was probably missing out on a primo op for some great sex.
Ah, well. Story of her life. Fantasy was always much more interesting than reality, in her world. In her mind, she slept with any number of hot guys a day. In reality, you could count the number of men with whom she'd ever been intimate on one hand without the use of the thumb.
She emerged from the airport terminal and blinked against the hot, bright Arizona sunlight. She'd forgotten for a moment where she was. Which told her her need for sleep was greater than she'd realized. Maybe she should grab that rest before going back to her place, just in case it was being watched.
But what she needed couldn't wait.
She boarded a shuttle to an off-site long-term parking lot right before it closed its doors, standing instead of sitting, and watched the guy she'd run into come outside the terminal, shielding his eyes. Their gazes met and held until broken by distance, as the hum of the shuttle engine filled her ears.
In a parallel universe, she might have found herself straddled across his bare thighs at that moment, riding him through long, mountainous trails toward an awesome waterfall.
In a parallel universe, she wouldn't be wanted for the murder of a man whose only crime was to be assigned to hear a capital case against a militia head who had no intention of staying in jail.
She absently rubbed her forehead. She still wasn't clear on everything that had happened, other than what she'd read in the papers. Federal Prosecutor Ryan Mussel had been killed in his home office and apparently there had to have been enough trumped-up evidence left around to link his murder to her, since she had an outstanding arrest warrant. Her step faltered.
While she hadn't known Ryan personally, she had known about him and had seen him on a couple of occasions years ago. She certainly had no motive for his murder. But she could only imagine what evidence had been manufactured against her: enough to earn her at least a life sentence if not a death one.
But why? What did she know? There had to be a reason she was being set up for a crime she hadn't committed. By a man she had once loved, along with his extended family. A family that had also been her family not so very long ago, although it sometimes seemed like a lifetime had passed since she'd left the Freedom Way militia group to which she'd once belonged.
"No one ever truly gets out. ."
She recalled the words of one of her "family" members when she'd said goodbye to him.
"Once in, you're always in. And not always in a good way."
She hadn't completely grasped what he'd been saying until now.
She could only hope the information she was after would be enough to clear her name.
Of course, getting that information was going to be tricky.
Tricky? To most, it would represent a death wish.
But seeing as she was probably facing the death penalty anyway well, she had to risk it.
First she had to get what she needed from her place, the most important thing being cash.
She tightened her grasp on the pole as the shuttle turned a corner, suddenly cold despite the high heat .