Read an Excerpt
Sadie felt the bullet whiz by her head as she crouched down in the wet dirt. Darkness surrounded her, but she wasn't alone. Her gut screamed loudly that something was terribly wrong. And she always trusted her gut. She had company, and if that bullet was any indication, they meant business. The sound of the crackling leaves told her someone was moving quickly in her direction.
Dressed in all black, she lay flat on the ground in the dark woods. No one was going to see her. That bullet wasn't meant for her but was intended for someone else. Who? She didn't want to stick around long enough to find out. She prayed that Megan wasn't out here in the woods tonightalone, scared and with bullets flying. It was no place for a sixteen-year-old girl.
She checked her gun and kept her position low against the damp, muddy ground. Her night vision goggles were a blessing. It was then she saw what she dreaded the most. The letters FBI on a dark-colored flak jacket as an agent trounced his way through the woods. Why the FBI was involved in whatever was happening in these woods she didn't know, but she didn't like it. They were invading her turf.
Sadie had her first solid lead on the Vladimir network in El Paso, and she didn't want to give up the opportunity. She'd been on stakeouts for weeks, desperately trying to determine if Igorthe man who had taken everything from herwas in El Paso. Her intel had been that something related to the Vladimir crew was going down in the woods tonight. She had hoped that whatever it was wasn't going to involve Meganthe missing girl she was looking for. Sadie knew that Vladimir's crew was responsible for her disappearance. That's why she'd sought out the job just days ago.
Technically, she was still in the Witness Security Program commonly known as Witness Protection, although they didn't consider her to be in immediate danger anymore. She'd followed all their rules over the years. Her new life, her new name, everything. Done by the book. Not a single deviation from the protocol given to her by the U.S. Marshals. There was no way she'd let them know what she planned to do now that she had confirmation Igor sought to set up shop in her own backyard. It was only a matter of time before Witness Protection realized Igor's activities had expanded down to El Paso, and then they'd want her to move. She needed to act fast if she had any chance of taking out Igor's network.
She slowly stood up using a large tree as a shield. Thankfully, she was small of stature. By the time she'd registered the crunch of a stick right behind her it was too late. A large hand grabbed her shoulder with another muffling her scream.
"FBI, don't move," the deep voice said directly into her ear.
Didn't matter who he was, when a man put his hands on her, he was going to pay. She'd trained for moments like these. She slammed her foot down on his, and he groaned. But he didn't loosen his grip. Was this guy made of iron?
Trying another approach, she went limp in his arms, shocking him into loosening his grip, giving her a moment to slide away. She'd only taken two steps when he tackled her, knocking her to the ground. She could barely breathe. She squirmed against him, but she was no match for his size and strength. He had to have been at least a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier. For a moment, fear seized her. She said a prayer asking God to keep her safe and then fought back.
"Stop struggling," he said quietly, his voice steady. "I promise I'm not going to hurt you."
She didn't believe him. She knew better than to trust the Feds. Trust them, and she could end up dead like her parents. He adjusted his grip just enough for her to knee him in the stomach. Big mistake on her part. Now he seemed raving mad.
"I'm trying to save your life here. You have no idea what you've gotten yourself into. You should not be here in these woods right now."
The thing was, she actually wasn't a stranger to life-and-death situations. So this one didn't faze her too much. "I already dodged one bullet and was doing just fine on my own."
"You'll have time later to explain how you ended up in the middle of an active FBI investigation packing heat and wearing night vision goggles. For now, let me get you out of here safe and sound."
She shuddered. Those promises had been made to her before. And they'd been brokenevery single one of them.
"I'm not going anywhere with you," she said. She struggled against his secure grip.
"Yes, you are, ma'am. Listen to me." He paused, his breathing ragged. "Things are only going to get worse. You might not be as fortunate the next time a bullet gets fired. And I don't want to have your death on my conscience. I have enough guilt to last a lifetime. So when I say three, we move for that next tree. You hear me?"
Realizing her current options were limited, she relented. He was right. Her best move for now was to retreat. She'd taken a taxi tonight and made her way to the woods on foot. It wasn't as if she had her own ride out of danger. She'd have time to get away from him once they got to safety. "Okay."
"One, two, three, go go go!" he said in a low voice. They sprinted from their current position to the next tree and squatted down. That's when she heard another round of gunfire. Automatic weapons this time. Her heartbeat quickened, but now was not the time to panic. She'd been in worse situations without the valuable experience that she now carried with her after years of being a private investigator.
"What next?" she whispered, trying to catch her breath.
"Make a run for that far tree. My Jeep is beyond it. I'm hoping that will work."
"And if not?"
"I'll think of plan B."
He sounded so sure of himself. Typical for FBI types. She wasn't going to count on him to get her out of here safely. She would survey her options once they made it to the next tree before she jumped in the Jeep of a total strangereven if he was in the FBI. Hadn't she already learned that tough lesson? "Now," he barked.
She ran ahead of him using her small size and speed to her advantage, making it to the tree first. Though he wasn't far behind. She saw the dark Jeep parked behind a cluster of trees providing them with additional cover.
"Let's go for it," he said.
Making a split second decision that she prayed she wouldn't regret, she slid into the passenger side and ducked down low. Before she could even steady herself, the FBI guy had turned the ignition and floored it. The bumpy ride had her on high alert as he navigated the vehicle over the rough terrain.
She stayed down not knowing if they were safe from the gunfire and started plotting her escape. No way was she being taken in by the FBI to "explain herself."
They drove a few minutes in silence as the Jeep weaved through the wooded area and onto the country road that would eventually lead back into town. Then he spoke after checking his mirrors. "We're in the clear."
She eased up into her seat and looked around at her surroundings, including the man driving. She wasn't wrong in her initial assessment. This guy was tall and bulky. She already knew from the encounter in the woods that he was strong. His brown hair was cut short. She couldn't see his eyes since they were focused on what lay ahead. She told herself to remember that he was one of them.
He glanced over at her. "You want to tell me now what you were doing out in the woods?"
"My job," she snapped. Who knows what he thought she was doing, but her answer was completely truthful.
"And what job is that?"
She sighed, already not enjoying this line of questioning. "I'm a private investigator."
"You're not plugged into our FBI investigation, though. I would've known it."
"I have no idea what investigation you're working on." She let out a deep breath and figured she needed to provide an explanation. Maybe it would help her get away from him sooner. "I was in the woods searching for a missing girl. You may have even seen a local news story about her. Her mother recently hired me. I've been looking everywhere. I didn't see or hear anything until I felt the first bullet whiz by my ear." She was telling the truth. She had to make sure Megan wasn't in those woods tonight. It appeared that her leads had been correct. Something was going on with the Vladimir crew. And the FBI was involved. She said another silent prayer for Megan.
"Wow," he said. "You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ms. P.I. lady. I'm going to need to bring you in, though. Gotta take your statement. Make it official." His Southern drawl was unmistakable.
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"I promise it'll be quick. You are carrying a weapon. I assume you have a permit for that and all."
No way she'd allow him to take her in, but she didn't have to tell him that. Her past struggles with the FBI were her own. Better to have the element of surprise.
"Uh-oh," he said. He jerked the wheel hard to the right sending her into his right arm. "We've got company. Hold on."
"I thought you said we were good."
"They came out of nowhere."
She turned around and saw a large dark SUV that was gaining on them. But FBI guy had some moves and was taking the curves on the dark country road with finesse as he drove toward the more populated area of town.
"Who are these people?" she asked as she clenched her fists. Were they connected to Vladimir?
"The less you know the better."
"Why don't you let me take a shot? I could probably blow out their tire."
"You're that good of a shot?" he asked with disbelief dripping from his deep voice.
"You better believe it," she said without hesitation.
He paused for a second and glanced over at her. "If you think you can, then go for it."
She was going to show this FBI guy that she was no slouch. In fact, she could probably outshoot him. All the time she'd spent at the range over the past few years had paid off. She turned around and was glad they were in a Jeep. Granted it didn't provide them with much, if any, protection, but it also meant she'd have an easier time getting off an unobstructed shot.
Steadying herself she took a deep breath, aimed and pulled the trigger. It only took one shot, and the right front tire of the car chasing them was done for. The pursuit ended abruptly as they began to skid, the car circling in on the blown tire. "Got 'em."
"Well, Ms. P.I. lady, I'm impressed."
"You should be." Then she turned the gun toward him.
"Whoa." He lifted up his right hand at her while keeping his left on the wheel. "Just put that thing away."
Her hand was steady. "I have no reason to use this on you. But I'm not being taken in for questioning. I didn't do anything wrong."
"I never accused you of anything," he said with a raised voice. She watched as his hands tightened on the wheel.
"Take me downtown. Let me out and drive away. It's that simple."
"You're crazy, ma'am."
"No. But I'm the one with the gun right now, so I hope you don't try anything crazy."
"You're hiding something."
"It's none of your concern. Just act like you never saw me tonight."
"You know that's not possible. I'll have to write up this whole thing."
"Be creative," she countered. "Now let's get downtown. And don't try anything because I'd really hate to shoot you."
He let out a deep breath but started driving toward town as she directed. Good, she thought. She doubted that he'd let her go indefinitely. But she needed to get away and deal with this problem on her own terms. That meant not being taken in for questioning by the FBI tonight. She needed time.
When they reached the more crowded streets of downtown El Paso, she was ready to get away from him. "Slow down. Let me out. And keep on driving. Do you hear me?"
"Yes," he said in an even voice.
He did as she asked and slowed down. She never took the gun off of him as she opened the door slowly.
With the light from the streets flooding in, she could see his eyes were light blue. And questioning. "Just pretend I was never here. For your own good and mine too, okay?"
She couldn't shake the thought that she'd seen him before. She backed out of the Jeep, and he didn't say anything in response. She slammed the door shut, and he pulled away. She didn't waste any time weaving her way through the Saturday night crowd.
She was safe for now, but she had no doubt. The FBI guy would find her, and when he did, she'd be in a ton of trouble.
Kip Moore had a job to do. He actually had several. In addition to bringing down the branch of the Vladimir network that had popped up in Texas, he had to find the infuriating P.I. who had the nerve to draw a gun on him.
He didn't know whether to be impressed or insulted. She might have been small, but someone had taught her how to shootand to shoot well. There were only so many P.I.'s in El Paso, so tracking her down wasn't difficult. His P.I. lady was in truth, Sadie Lane of The Lane Group.
He needed to figure out her connection to the Vladimir network and his investigation. He was going to offer to bring her in as a consultant on the case. It would be the perfect way to find out what she was up to. He was currently on his way to pay her a visit. Turned out her office was on the outskirts of downtown not too far from where he'd let her out on Saturday night. It was part of a larger row of nondescript offices, and he read the sign outside her door confirming he was in the right place.
He was prepared for just about anything when he walked through the door, but he wasn't expecting to stare down the barrel of her gun yet again. He couldn't help but smile. "We can't keep meeting like this."
"Didn't I tell you to leave me alone?"
"Yes, ma'am, you did. But it wasn't very polite of you to draw your gun on me the other night after I helped get you out of that mess in the woods."
"I told you I wasn't planning on using it. And I was more than capable of getting out of 'that mess' as you call it, all on my own. If you haven't noticed, I'm pretty good with my gun."