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The Wyoming woods atop the tall mountains that cradled the town of Cold Plains were just beginning to take on a fall cast of color. This worked perfectly with the camouflage long-sleeved T-shirt and pants that Micah Grayson wore as he made his way through the thick brush and trees.
Although a gun holster rode his shoulder, he held his gun tight in his hand. Despite the fact that he had only been hiding out in the mountainous woods for two days and nights, he'd quickly learned that danger could come in the blink of an eye, a danger that might require the quick tic of his index finger on the trigger.
Twilight had long ago fallen but a nearfull moon overhead worked as an additional enemy when it came to using the shield of darkness for cover.
As an ex-mercenary, Micah knew how to learn the terrain and use the weather to his advantage. He knew how to keep the reflection of the moonlight off his skin so as not to alert anyone to his presence. He could move through a bed of dry leaves and not make a sound. He could be wearing a black suit in a snowstorm and still figure out a way to become invisible.
The first twenty-four hours that he'd been in the woods he'd learned natural landmarks, studied pitfalls and figured out places he thought would make good hidey-holes if needed. He'd also come face-to-face with a moose, heard the distant call of a wolf and seen several elk and deer.
He now moved with the stealth of a big cat toward the rocky cliff he'd discovered the night before. As he crept low and light on his feet, he kept alert, his ears open for any alien sound that might not belong to the forest.
Despite the relative coolness of the night, a trickle of sweat trekked down the center of his back. During his thirty-eight years of life, Micah had faced a thousand life-threatening situations, the latest of which had been a bullet to his head that had sent him into a coma for months.
When he finally reached the rocky bluff he looked down at the lights dotting the little valley, the lights of the small town of Cold Plains, Wyoming. His brother Samuel's town. Micah reached up and touched the scar, now barely discernible through his thick dark hair on the left side of his head, the place where Samuel's henchman, Dax Roberts, had shot him while Micah had sat in his car. Dax had left him for dead.
Fortunately for Micah he hadn't died, but had come out of a three-month coma with the fierce, driving need for revenge against the fraternal twin he'd always somehow known was a dangerous, narcissistic sociopath.
Unfortunately, Samuel was also charming and slick and powerful, making him a natural leader that people wanted to follow.
Five months ago Micah had been sitting in a smalltown Kansas coffee shop where he'd landed after his last mission for a little downtime when he'd seen a face almost identical to his own flash across the television mounted to the wall.
Stunned, he'd watched a news story unfold that told him his brother Samuel was being questioned by the FBI and local police in connection with the murders of five women found all across Wyoming. All the women had one thing in common: Cold Plains, the town where his wealthy, motivational-speaker brother wielded unbelievable influence and power.
Micah had immediately contacted the FBI and been put in touch with an agent named Hawk Bledsoe. The two had made arrangements to meet the next day but, before Micah could make that meeting, he'd caught the bullet to his head.
He'd been in the coma for ninety-three long days and it had taken him another two months to feel up to the task he knew he had to dotake out Samuel before he could destroy any more people and lives.
Which was why he'd spent these last two days and nights in the woods adjacent to Cold Plains.
Minutes before he'd made his way to the bluff, he'd met with his FBI contact, Hawk. Hawk had grown up in Cold Plains and after years of being away from his hometown had returned to discover that the rough-around-the-edges place where he'd grown up as son of the town drunk had transformed into something eerily perfect. A town run by a group of people who others referred to under their breaths as the Devotees and their leader, the movie-star handsome, but frightening and dangerous Samuel Grayson.
For the past two nights Micah and Hawk had met at dusk in the woods so Hawk could keep Micah apprised of what was going on in town and how the FBI investigation into Samuel's misdeeds was progressing.
As he thought about everything Hawk had shared with him over the last two days, a dull throb began at the scar in the side of his head. He drew in several deep, long breaths, attempting to will away one of the killer migraines that the bullet had left behind.
He turned and started off the bluff, deciding to make his way down the mountain, closer to town. The only time he dared to do a little reconnaissance of the layout of the town was at night. He knew that if anyone caught sight of him it would be reported back to Samuel, and the last thing Micah wanted Samuel to know was that he was not only still alive but he was also here and working with the FBI to bring him down.
As always, he moved silently, knowing that the woods held many secrets. Just the night before, he'd stumbled upon two women amid the brush and trees. Darcy Craven had fainted at the sight of him, assuming he was his brother, but the woman with her, June Farrow, had recognized that he wasn't Samuel and had taken him to the safe house located in an area called Hidden Valley.
The safe house and surrounding land, only accessible by hiking or helicopter, had become an important haven for those trying to escape Samuel and his minions. The woods weren't just filled with those trying to escape the small town, but also dangerous hunters tracking them down.
Samuel had to be stopped. The words had reverberated in his head the moment he'd awakened from his coma and that thought was the driving force that got him up each morning, his final thought before falling asleep at night.
He froze as he thought he heard a sound someplace to his left. It sounded like a baby's cry; there for just a moment and then gone as if stolen from the gentle night breeze. He remained still, his index finger ready to fire the gun gripped tight in his hand if necessary.
Micah wasn't given to flights of fantasy. He knew he'd heard something. It was possible that it had been some sort of animal, but there was no way he intended to leave this area until he found the source of the sound.
There were hunters in the woods, but Micah was one, too, and if he managed to get to one of the men who worked for Samuel, he'd turn them over to the FBI to help them build a case against the man, hopefully a case that would avenge the deaths of the five women Micah knew in his heart his brother was responsible for killing.
The noise came again a quick cry that was just as quickly gone. The darkness of the night seemed to press in around him as he targeted in on the area where he thought the sound had originated.
The moon slivered through the tree branches here and there, filtering down enough illumination to be both a little bit helpful and definitely dangerous. Micah kept to the dark shadows as he made his way toward the noise.
Somebody was in the woods, of that he was certain. He wouldn't put it past Samuel to arrange for one of his minions to make the noises he'd heard, hoping to draw somebody out of the safe house, hoping that somebody could be taken into custody and then be forced to give up the location of the place of safety.
His heart took on the slow, steady beat of a trained soldier as he advanced forward. He'd just stepped around a tree when he saw her. Despite the fact that she was backed into the brush, her white-blond hair served as a beacon calling to the moonlight.
In an instant, he took in everything. Small and petite, her jeans and blouse appeared dirty and her hair was tangled with bits of leaves and brush caught in the curly length. She held a baby in a sling across her chest and a sharp, pointed stick raised in her hand.
If she thought that puny stick might be used as a weapon against him, she was sadly mistaken. Micah could have that stick out of her hand and broken in half before she ever saw him coming.
As he stepped close enough for her to see him, she looked up and gasped, her green eyes widening in abject terror.
"I won't tell," she exclaimed fervently. "Please don't hurt me. I swear I won't tell anyone what I saw. Just let me have my other son and we'll go far away from here. I'll never speak your name again." Her voice cracked as she focused on his gun and he realized she believed he was Samuel.
Certainly it was dark enough that anyone could mistake him for his brother. When the brothers were together it was easy to see the subtle differences between them. Micah's face was slightly thinner, his features more chiseled than those of his brother.
At the moment, Micah knew Samuel kept his hair cut neat and tidy while Micah's long hair was tied back. He reached up and pulled the rawhide strip, allowing his hair to fall from its binds.
The woman gasped once again. "You aren't him but you look like him. Who are you?" Her voice still held fear as she dropped the stick and protectively clutched the baby closer to her chest.
"Who are you?" he countered. He wasn't about to be taken in by a pale-haired angel with big green eyes in this evil place where angels probably couldn't exist.
"I'm Olivia Conner, and this is my son Sam." Tears filled her eyes. "I have another son, but he's still in town. I couldn't get to him before I ran away. I've heard rumors that there was a safe house somewhere, but I've been in the woods for two days and I can't find it." The tears spilled a little faster. "I need to get someplace safe, where Sam can get something to eat and I can go back into town and get my other son."
Micah was unmoved by her tears and by her story. He knew how devious his brother could be and Micah would do everything possible to protect the location of the safe house. There was only one way to know for sure if she was one of Samuel's "Devotees."
"I need to see your right hip," he said.
Once again her eyes opened wide, but it was obvious she knew why he'd made the demand. The people closest to Samuel, the people who were a part of his "cult" were all tattooed on their right hip with a letter D. Before he took her anywhere, he needed to see that she wasn't wearing Samuel's mark.
She pulled the sling over her neck and placed the baby on the ground where he sat up and gazed at Micah with a drooling grin. Olivia stood, dwarfed by Micah's six feet two and as she looked up at him, he saw the fear that still simmered in the depths of her eyes.
Her slender fingers trembled as they unfastened her jeans and slipped them down low enough to expose one pale hip. Micah pulled a flashlight from his pocket and shone it on the area, wanting to be absolutely sure that he didn't miss any tattoo that would mark her as one of Samuel's closest followers.
Confident that there was nothing there, he motioned her to refasten her jeans. "You never told me who you are," she said as she fastened the jeans and then pulled on the sling and the child back against her chest.
"And you never told me exactly how you came to be in the middle of the woods in the dead of the night with only one of your two children," he countered.
In the light of the moon he saw her eyes darken and fear once again shine from the depths. She hesitated, as if unsure what to tell him, then finally released a weary sigh. "I was on my way to the child care center to pick up my three-year-old son Ethan when I saw something that shocked me something that frightened me so badly I just ran. Please, I need help. We're hungry. My baby is hungry."
Micah knew he was a good judge of character and more than once that quality had saved his life. There was a genuine desperation in her eyes, and that, coupled with the absence of the telltale tattoo, allowed him to put away any misgivings about her credibility.
"What was it that you saw that scared you so bad you ran?" he asked.
She lifted her chin a notch and although her lips trembled slightly there was defiance in her stance as she straightened her shoulders and squared off to him. "I'm not saying anything more until I know who you are and what you intend to do with me."
"I'm Micah Grayson, Samuel's brother. I'm here to take him down, but right now I'm going to take you to the safe house. Stay close, move fast and keep quiet." With these words he turned his back to her and began to move.