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The cell door slid open with the quick buzz of the disabled security alarm and the clang of heavy metal. Rowe Cusack swung his legs over the side of his bunk and jumped down onto the concrete floor. Had the warden reinstated his privileges?
Rowe couldn't understand why they'd been suspended in the first place. He hadn't started the fight in the cafeteria even though he had ended it. But the warden had punished him anyway and ignored Rowe's demands to use the phone.
He needed to make the call that would get him the hell out of hell. His instincts tightened his guts into knots; he was pretty sure his cover had been blown.
But how? He had been going undercover for years before he had joined the Drug Enforcement Administration, and even as a rookie with the Detroit Police Department he had never been discovered.
"Hey, guard," Rowe called out, disrupting the eerie quiet of predawn in the cell block. "What's going on?"
Even if his privileges had been reinstated, they wouldn't allow him to make a call at this hour. He hadn't been allowed one in over a week. No visitors either, not even a letter or an email. After just a few days of no contact, his handler, in his guise as Rowe's attorney, should have checked in on him. Or Special Agent Jackson should have had him pulled out. Leaving him in here with no backup and no real weapon for self-protection, if his cover had been blown, was like leaving him for dead.
"You got a new roommate," a deep voice announced, and a hulking shadow darkened the cell. "Get out of here, Petey."
Rowe's scrawny cell mate scrambled out of the bottom bunk and flattened his back against the wall as he squeezed through the cell door opening around the giant of a man entering it.
Rowe reached for his homemade shiv, closing his fingers around the toothbrush handle. Even in the dim glow of the night security lights, he recognized the man whom he'd given a wide berth since his incarceration. His flimsy weapon wouldn't be much protection against the burly giant.
"What the hell do you want?" he asked the monster of a man.
"Same thing you do," the deep voice murmured. "To get the hell out of here."
"There's no escape route in here." Rowe had checked for one. He'd had some tough assignments over his six years with the DEA, but getting locked up like an animal, with animals, was his worst mission yet. From between his shoulder blades, sweat trickled down his back, and panic pressed on his chest.
He'd fought it since he was a kid, refusing to let it rule or limit his life. But maybe he should have used it as a reason to get out of taking this assignment.
"You're my escape route," Jedidiah Kleyn said, stepping closer. Light from the dim overhead bulb glinted off his bald head and his dark eyes. The eyes of a coldblooded killer.
This was the last person Rowe would have wanted to learn his real identity. He shook his head in denial. "You got the wrong guy."
The prisoner laughed; the sharp, loud noise sounded like a hammer pounding nails into Rowe's casket. "That's not what I hear."
"What do you hear?" He wondered how the man heard anything; Rowe wasn't the only prisoner who gave him a wide berth. Nobody wanted to mess with this man, and so as to not risk pissing him off, nobody talked to him.
"I hear that you ask a lot of questions." Kleyn stepped even closer. Rowe was over six feet tall and muscular, but this guy was taller. Broader, like a brick wall of mean. "I hear that you stick your nose where it doesn't belong."
Rowe lifted his chin, refusing to retreat. Since he'd basically raised himself, he had learned young to never back down from a fight. He damn sure couldn't back down in herenot even if the fight killed him. "I've never bothered you."
Kleyn laughed again, like a swinging hammer. "Nobody does. They all know better."
"So do I," Rowe admitted. "I've heard stuff about you, too, even before I got transferred to Blackwoods to serve out the rest of my sentence." A few years ago Jedidiah Kleyn's horrendous crimes had been all over the news. So even though Rowe's cover claimed he'd been incarcerated in another state penitentiary, he still would have heard about the killer.
Kleyn expelled a weary sigh, as if it bothered him to be the topic of discussion. "Well, you shouldn't believe everything you hear."
"No," Rowe agreed. "I didn't pay all that much attention to what anyone had to say about you."
"That's because I have nothing to do with drugs," Kleyn said. "And that seems to be all you want to know about."
Rowe's gut clenched. Damn. He had been careful, as he always was. In the three weeks he'd been locked up in the maximum-security prison, he'd done more listening than talking. And he had saved his questions, only asking a few and of people who'd seemed to think nothing of them. He'd learned years ago when and who to talk to so as to not raise any suspicions, and he hadn't had a problem before.
What the hell had gone so wrong this time? No one could have recognized him; before the Drug Enforcement Administration had sent him undercover, his handlers had checked the inmate roster to make sure Rowe had never had contact with any of them.
"Drugs have nothing to do with why I'm not that interested in the gossip about you," he said, trying to convince the other man. "I don't care what people say about you because I'm just not scared of you."
A grin slashed deep grooves in Kleyn's face. "And here you are, with more to fear from me than anyone else in this damn hellhole."
"Why's that?" he asked. Except for the crimes Kleyn had committed, Rowe had had no problem with him. A different inmate had attacked him in the cafeteria. The guy had been big, but Rowe had overpowered him without much effort. He worried he wouldn't be able to handle Kleyn as easily.
"You've heard about me," he said, "so you know why everybody leaves me alone."
Rowe nodded. Unfortunately he knew. If he hadn't had an assignment to complete, he might have sought out Kleyn, and discovered just how well he could handle a fight with the intimidating giant, in order to dole out a little physical justice for Kleyn's crimes. "You're a cop killer."
"And you're a cop."
His cover was definitely blown.
Rowe tightened his grip on the shiv. But could he bury the flimsy weapon deep enough to stop the big guy from killing him?
His throat burned as he forced a laugh. "That's crazy. Sure, I asked some questions. I saw what's going on in here, and I wanted in on the action. Getting busted for dealing is the reason I'm in here, man."
"You're in here to investigate Blackwoods Penitentiary and find out how far the corruption goes. Just a few guards or all the way to the top."
The short hair lifted on his nape as the prisoner relayed word for word the synopsis Rowe's handler had given him for his current assignment.
"You really should have asked me," Kleyn replied, "because I can definitely answer that question for you." He lifted his beefy hand, and light glinted off the long blade of the big weapon he carried. "All the way to the top."
Rowe stepped back but only to widen his stance and brace himself for what he suspected would be the battle of his life. For his life. "You don't want to do this."
"No," the man agreed with a sigh of resignation. "But I have to. Only one of us can come out of this cell alive."
Rowe intended to fight like hell to make sure he was the one to survive. Kleyn had already killed too many people. So, his flimsy weapon clasped tight in his hand, he lunged toward his would-be assassin.
Macy Kleyn's fingers trembled on the tab of the body bag. Her heart thudded slowly and heavily with dread. Could this be ? She drew in a deep breath of the cool air blowing through the vents in the morgue. Then she closed her eyes in fear of what she might see when she unzipped the bag.
"Macy, you got this?" a man called out to her from the hall. "Dr. Bernard won't be here for another hour or so. The sheriff and the warden called him back out to the prison. So I gotta bring the van out there again."
Why? The body, from that morning's fatal stabbing, was here, inside the black plastic bag lying across the gurney. She shivered, and not from the cold air, as she realized the only reason the county coroner had returned to the prison.
Someone else had died.
"Just shove him inside a drawer until Dr. Bernard gets here," Bob, the driver said, his voice growing fainter as he headed toward the elevator, which would carry him to the hospital floors above ground.
"Sure, I'll take care of him," she said, her words echoing off the floors and walls, which were all white tile but for the one wall of stainless steel doors. Her reflection bounced back from one of those doorsher dark hair pulled into a ponytail, leaving her face stark and pale, her dark eyes wide with fear. She had to stow the body behind one of those doors, inside a cold metal drawer.
But first she had to see if the nightmare she had been having for the past three years had come true. Had her brotherher dear, sweet, protective older brotherdied in the awful, soul-sucking place that he never should have been?
Tears of frustration stung her eyes at the injustice of his conviction. He wasn't a killer. Not Jed. Now had he been killed, just like she saw him die in the nightmares from which she always awoke screaming?
Macy had given up so much to be close to him, to keep him going while they tried to find evidence for an appeal. But the whole time she tried to prove his innocence, she heard a clock ticking inside her head. Blackwoods Penitentiary was the worst possible place her brother could have been sentenced. Prisoners were more likely to leave the facility in body bags than to be paroled. Not that her brother had any chance for parole; he had been sentenced to life without possibility of parole for each of the murders he'd been convicted of committing. Two life sentences.
Had they both just been commuted?
She drew in another deep breath, bracing herself for what she might find. Then she tightened her grip on the zipper tab and tugged it down to reveal the stabbing victim from that morning.
Blond hair fell across his forehead, thick lashes lay against sharp cheekbones, and his sculpted lips pressed tight together. It wasn't Jed.
Macy's breath caught then shuddered out; her relief tempered with guilt and regret. Whoever this man washe was too young to die, probably only in his early thirties. And, not that it mattered, he was ridiculously handsome. He was also a convict, though, and unlikely to have been innocent like Jed. She hated to think of anyone else being so unjustly accused and sentenced to death at Blackwoods.
She reached for the zipper again but as she lifted the tab, a hand closed over hers. Her breath catching in her throat, she jerked her attention back to the body. Light blue eyes stared up at her, open now where just moments before they had been closed.
Her lips parted on a shocked gasp, with a scream burning in her throat. But she couldn't utter that scream. A big palm clamped tight over her mouth. Instead of being cold and clammy, his skin was rough and warm against her lips. This was no corpse but a living and breathing man.