By Lorie O'Clare
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2010 Lorie O'Clare
All rights reserved.
Greg King loved not having to worry about getting a warrant. But if he shot to kill, he would face murder charges. He really did hate some of the laws on the books.
Keeping his Glock pointed to the ground, he hit the street, humidity causing his shirt to cling to him like a second skin. It wasn't even light out yet. It would be another scorcher, tolerable only if he nailed the fugitive they'd been tracking since 2:00 A.M. before the sun got too high in the sky.
And they said life would be boring once he retired from the LAPD.
"Marc, you in place?" he hissed into his Bluetooth.
"Yup," Marc whispered in his ear, sounding somewhat winded. "Stationary and ready for fireworks."
"Jake, what's it like out front?"
"All quiet. He's still in there." Jake's anxious tone sounded as if he was running high on adrenaline.
But then, weren't they all? It had been one hell of a night.
"I'm going in," Greg informed his sons.
Marc and Jake both loved the kill, although technically no one died. Or they weren't supposed to. Greg and his sons were only paid when they brought their prey in alive. A dead fugitive was no good to the bondsman who'd hired them or, in this case, bondswoman.
Greg knew the craving to make the bust, bring down the fugitive, and slap on those cuffs ran strong enough in his blood that both of his boys would get high from the adventure just like he did.
What he did was dangerous and Greg would never live through one of his family dying because of his livelihood, but Marc and Jake insisted working at his side. Despite Greg's protests, both of his sons had proven to be quick studies and had overcome every obstacle Greg had thrown at them in an effort to make them choose another line of work. Today they were almost as good as him. Both his sons were built like him, well over six feet and incredibly muscular. Their appearance intimidated the not-so-hardened criminal, which always worked to a bounty hunter's advantage.
Pulling all-nighters like this never got old. Dealing with the bureaucratic red tape that forced him to wait on judges' signatures and stalling until he got the go-ahead from his senior officers had gotten old as hell.
Those days were behind him now. Being a bounty hunter allowed him freedom to do exactly what he planned on doing right now, and would have killed to do for the past twenty years.
Greg cut between the dilapidated house and the house next door to where Charlie Woods supposedly lived, moving silently in spite of his size. Size did matter. No one would convince him otherwise. But Greg knew how to move without disturbing a soul, even though he stood six feet, four inches. There was no reason to wake the entire neighborhood simply because Pedro Gutierrez thought he could jump bail and make a run for it. Charlie was a known member of the Hell Cats, a gang Pedro had once belonged to, and according to reliable sources, Pedro was hiding out at Charlie's. Greg wouldn't learn the truth by simply knocking on the door.
He reached the backyard and hurried across the lawn, slowing when he reached the metal screen door. He kept his gun down, pulling the door open with his left hand, then braced it with his body as he turned the handle on the door.
"Are you in?" Jake demanded, his whispered question sounding as if he stood right behind his father.
Greg took his hand off the doorknob and adjusted the earpiece so his son wasn't yelling in his ear.
"It's locked," he growled, having half a mind to shoot the fucking doorknob off the door. "I'm trying the windows."
"We're coming in through the front," Marc decided, breaking in on the conversation.
"Like hell," Greg said, keeping his voice to a barely audible whisper. "He's fucking armed and dangerous. We're working against a ticking time bomb. You two wait for my go-ahead."
Already he was around the back of the house, edging his way to the nearest window. It was probably a bedroom window and quite possibly where their guy might be hiding out. Greg stared at the dark window — blinds, possibly curtains, or even a mattress — that was making it impossible to see inside. The storm window was up, though, and the window wasn't so high off the ground or too small that he couldn't haul his large frame through it if he moved quickly. The element of surprise was his only advantage right now.
"Go ahead and call in backup," Greg told Marc.
"I'm on it," he announced.
Greg didn't bother asking if that meant they were already on their way, or not. Backup would get here when they got here. Greg wasn't waiting.
Sliding his gun into his holster, Greg pulled out his pocketknife and flipped it open. It wasn't the kind of knife most fathers carried around with them. The razor-sharp blade would cut through the metal of the screen frame if he wanted it to. Instead, he sliced the screen, imagining their fugitive would probably try suing if he owned this dump and charge Greg for breaking and entering plus vandalizing his home. It wouldn't be the first time.
Maybe Greg didn't get the protection offered when he had worn the uniform and he had to be careful how he went about making his arrests. But at least today red tape was something he would slice through with his handy little pocketknife. He ran his own show these days. All that mattered was that the bonds company got their fugitive and Greg got his check.
He sliced the screen, starting in the top left corner and gutting it down the middle, then cutting along the bottom until the screen peeled to the side for him. Greg reached through it, feeling it scrape his damp flesh above his leather glove, and pushed the window up. It lifted with a whiny squeak, obviously complaining from lack of use.
"I'm heading in," he whispered to his sons. "Move now!"
More than once in his life, living in Los Angeles, people had asked if Greg were a professional wrestler. His size didn't bother him, and it wouldn't slow him down now. Snapping his pocketknife shut and sheathing it in the leather case attached to his belt, Greg hoisted himself through the window, feeling the wooden frame of the window rake over his shoulders and then his legs. He fell to his side on a dirty wooden floor and immediately pulled his gun, forcing his eyes to adjust quickly to his surroundings as he looked around.
Other than a box spring and a bare mattress, there wasn't any furniture in the room. Crumpled fast-food bags and crushed beer cans gave the room the appearance of being one big trash dump.
"Did you hear that?" a man asked from the other room.
"Sounds like we have company." The thick Hispanic accent sounded just like Pedro Gutierrez, a wellknown drug lord and arms dealer who'd been arrested last month and had failed to show up for court yesterday afternoon. His probation officer couldn't find him and the bondswoman was getting nervous.
It was a stupid move on Pedro's part. He obviously didn't check the statistics before deciding to run. No criminal ran from Los Angeles and got away. This was Greg's town and he was too good. His track record spoke for itself.
"Who the fuck is back there?" the man roared, obviously not afraid at all of the boogey man in a dark bedroom.
Nor did the man turn on the bedroom light as he stormed in, which was just fine with Greg.
"Hello, Pedro," he said calmly, pointing his gun straight at the man's face.
Pedro apparently had no manners. He didn't return the greeting, but instead hauled ass toward the other end of the house. Greg charged after him, feeling the house shake from the two of them running through it.
It wasn't a long hallway, but Greg didn't catch the shadow that appeared from the bedroom across the hall in time. He saw the baseball bat, heard the whoosh when it swung through the air.
"Son of a bitch!" he yelled, turning and raising his arm. He braced himself for the pain that shot across his shoulder and down his spine. The bat hit the side of his neck, just above his shoulder, with enough driving force to knock Greg against the hallway wall.
"Fucking hell!" he roared, although the words damn near caught in his throat when his windpipe smashed closed, stealing his breath and racking every inch of his body.
Hitting the wall with the other shoulder didn't make matters any better. The intense headache he'd probably have to deal with the rest of the day slammed into his brain instantly.
A dark, burly-looking man bellowed something that didn't sound very friendly in Spanish and Pedro responded, their guttural slang difficult for Greg to translate. Especially when pain ransacked his body and a ringing started in his head as he slumped against the wall. The burly motherfucker shoved Greg out of the way, causing him to lose his footing, and then bounded after Pedro, leaving Greg to hold up the slimy wall.
At least he hadn't been shot. Maybe the two men weren't armed. His body hurt like fucking hell, but he'd have to worry about that later. Reaching for his neck, he cringed from the intense pain that shot down his arm. There wasn't any blood, though.
"I didn't give up a night's sleep so you could give me a migraine and get away." Greg cursed, using the hallway wall to push himself to his feet. It seemed his legs were heavier than usual when he tried running after them, and he damn near fell on his face. "Tough it up, King," he ordered himself.
They couldn't get far. His boys were out front and on the side of the house. Unless they'd already entered. He was in the living room, staring at the open front door, when he heard gunfire.
"Son of a bitch!"
Haley would never forgive him if one of the boys were seriously injured, or worse, injured while working a job.
Greg ignored the pain and ran out of the house, not having to worry about his eyes adjusting this time. It wasn't much lighter outside than it was in the house, but the pain made everything blur. Flashing reds and whites gave the front yard a surreal look. It was odd that moments like this caused him to think of his estranged wife.
"You have the right to remain silent," a young rookie Greg didn't recognize said as he continued shoving Charlie Woods toward a squad car. His tone was harsh and full of himself, as if he'd been the one chasing Pedro all night.
"Dad!" Jake yelled, hurrying across the yard.
Greg noticed Marc talking to Margaret Young, one of the bondswomen whom the Kings worked with on a regular basis. Jake reached Greg's side, grabbing his arm on his injured side.
"Where's Pedro?" Greg demanded, grabbing his son's arm and holding on to it, probably tighter than he should have.
"We got them," Jake said, not complaining even if Greg's hold on him was painful. "Are you okay?" he asked as Marc headed across the lawn to join them.
"I nabbed Pedro," Marc announced, giving his dad a quick once-over. Although Marc was the oldest at twenty-five, Jake stood an inch or so taller. Both were built like their old man, although at the moment Greg didn't feel incredibly intimidating, as many claimed the three of them appeared when standing together.
"Charlie Woods was with him and they're reading his rights to him right now. Margaret has one more for us if you're up for it. Apparently this one was nabbed at the same time as Gutierrez and missed his court date yesterday afternoon, too."
There were squad cars up and down the street, their lights flashing and lighting up the whole block. Greg and his sons might have done all the grunt work, but the uniforms loved being there for all the glory. Greg had years of putting more of these hoods behind bars than he cared to count. He didn't need to slap handcuffs on some punk to know he was good. If any of the older boys had been here for the bust, they would have treated Greg with respect. Greg no longer cared about lawyers downplaying his work or courtrooms where facts were twisted. His job ended when he turned in the perp, then it was on to the next hunt.
Greg barely heard his son describe their next perp as he stared at a woman who stood down the street, partially hidden in shadows. His head and shoulder were pounding, causing a ringing sound in his head. He ignored the pain. She shifted, crossed her arms, and studied him. It was as if tunnel vision kicked in and all he saw was the woman returning his stare.
She wore a pale pink jogging outfit and tight spandex that hugged her small waist, making her full, round breasts look even larger. Her skin was tanned and her light brown hair cut short, shorter than he remembered it, and it was kinky from the humidity. So, Haley wasn't a blonde anymore. Interesting. Would her hair still feel as soft between his fingers?
Six years might have passed, but he would know Haley if it had been sixty years and a hundred people stood between them. Her hair was a different color than it used to be, and she dressed in an outfit she wouldn't have been caught dead in before, not too revealing but more youthful looking. It looked damn good on her, too. The jogging outfit hugged her in all the right places and showed off her soft curves and breasts.
She wasn't a small woman, but she had always felt tiny next to him. It aroused his strongest protective instincts, and even now, he wanted to walk down the street, snatch her up, and hide her somewhere while he stood guard. No matter how many years dragged on he would never trust anyone else to keep her safe.
No one understood why Greg King had an impeccable record as a bounty hunter yet couldn't track down his wife who disappeared without as much as a note explaining her actions. Greg didn't need a note. The world could go ahead and think the love of his life had slipped through his fingers. He knew the truth, and although he had never liked it, he had lived with it. Haley hadn't given him a choice.
He doubted Haley thought she would be gone this long. Greg willed her to be closer, to see deeper into her eyes. Did she regret that stupid fight as much as he did? They'd never been given time to make up.
"Dad? What gives?" Marc was talking, but Greg didn't catch a word of it.
He tried stepping around his sons, needing to be closer to Haley. He didn't want her to disappear, no matter how justified her first disappearance was. At the same time he didn't want his sons to be distracted from their work. If Haley was in trouble, emotions would only make it harder to help her. And why else would she be here?
"Go get the details from Margaret," he said gruffly, waving them off as he tried circling around them.
Every instinct inside him demanded he grab her, learn her problems, fix them, and never let her go again.
"Already done." Marc remained by his side, holding papers that Greg hadn't noticed in his hand before now. "Jason Wilson, thirty years old, Caucasian, six feet and two hundred pounds. Bail was set at fifteen grand just like Gutierrez."
"If these two were buddies, Wilson might not be too far from here," Jake said, sandwiching his dad as he stood too close on Greg's other side.
"They weren't buddies." Greg shot his younger son a harsh glare as he stopped walking, knowing neither would give him a moment's peace if he didn't give them something to keep busy and distract them long enough for him to get around the squad cars and have a moment to learn why Haley was here. "Wilson and Gutierrez were drug lords, each controlling his own neighborhood until both were set up."
"If they were narked out, Wilson might have gone after whoever squealed on him once he bailed out."
Greg quit staring at Haley, who'd yet to pull her gaze from his, and scowled at his older son. "Their informant is well on his way into a witness protection program. You don't take out two men who basically controlled most of the city and believe you can walk the streets safely after that. Not to mention, this is information both of you should know already."
"Are you sure you're okay?" Marc changed the subject to avoid the lecture.
Pedro Gutierrez was cuffed and walked between two cops. His buddy Charlie Woods already sat in the backseat of a squad car. Pedro paused in front of Greg, blocking his view of Haley. Greg didn't give a rat's ass what the guy might have to say. But as Greg moved around Jake, searching for Haley, Pedro started ranting, his menacing tone probably enough to scare many.
"He said he can help you nail Jason," Marc said under his breath. Marc stiffened and balled his hands into fists when Pedro spoke again. Whatever he said, Pedro knew it affected Marc. His cruel sneer was damn near the ugliest thing Greg had ever seen. "Dad," Marc hissed.
"Did he just say something about Mom?" Jake asked under his breath, every inch of him tightening defensively. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Play Dirty by Lorie O'Clare. Copyright © 2010 Lorie O'Clare. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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