Read an Excerpt
A Deputy Laney Briggs Novel
By Jodi Linton, Karen Grove
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Jodi Linton
All rights reserved.
I'm an asshole.
A really big fucking asshole.
And for better or worse, that's exactly why I'm in this goddamn situation right now. For the first time in my life, I'd thought everything would fall into place. Sucker. But then I saw a pair of red cowboy boots strut out onto the porch this morning, and I knew one of my life's biggest screwups was fixing to bite me in the ass. And I'd fled the scene like the criminals I pride myself on locking behind bars.
I pressed a boot on the gas pedal, picking up speed. My gun rested snug at my hip, and my gaze focused on only one thing ... the road ahead. If she'd read the note I'd left by now, well, maybe she'd consider meeting up with me so we could talk. Out of everything in my pitiful broken-down life, Laney was my breath of fresh air. She had the ability to make me feel worth more than the motherfucking piece of shit I'd allowed myself to become.
And I loved her.
That's why what I'm about to do — no, what I did — was so screwed up.
"Tell me again. What's the name of the fed we're meeting up with?" Luke questioned, bringing me back to task.
"Guessing I should say how much I appreciate you sticking your neck out on this case."
He snorted. "Can't believe I agreed to accept those bogus murder charges." His shit-eating grin grew wider. "Better be getting myself a fake sexy wife to go along with this damn new life of mine in the Witness Protection Program."
I felt the annoying tic in my neck pick back up, making my shoulders unnecessarily tense. "Yeah," I replied dryly and turned the wheel, speeding through an empty desert. "As soon as I'm able to gather enough evidence on Redbud, you'll be the first to know. But for now, I need to keep my only witness safe, and Pistol Rock ain't gonna cut it, buddy."
His head hit the seat. "I've got the worst motherfucking luck."
"You don't have to tell me."
If someone had told me weeks ago I'd have Luke Wagner, the bane of my existence, riding shotgun in my Yukon instead of popping the question to Laney in front of the fireplace on Christmas Day, well, hell, I'd probably have fallen over dead.
But look at me now, card-carrying prick-of-the-year-boyfriend winner — exactly where I always knew I'd wind up. In the asshole driver's seat.
"Sampson. Kyle Sampson," I replied as I made a hard right turn. "He'll be holding your hand until the exchange with Agent Burrows."
Luke snorted and looked over his shoulder. "Why the tagalong, Wilson? Afraid I'm going to shoot you in the back of the head and then go fornicate with your girl?"
When Cavanaugh laughed from the backseat, my knuckles involuntarily tightened around the steering wheel. This was not the time to pick up old battles. I needed Luke, and he fucking knew it.
A firm hand patted my shoulder. "Boys, you two have made this ride extremely enjoyable." Detective Cavanaugh leaned over the front seat. "But I can't wait to never see you pricks again."
I couldn't agree more.
Dust whirled about, fading into a cloud of hazy smoke as I pulled up next to the single black Lincoln Town Car idling out in the Chihuahuan desert. Barely six hours ago, I'd left the love of my life stunned with betrayal in my quiet hometown of Pistol Rock, Texas. To say Christmas Day hadn't played out in my favor would've made my parents roll over in their graves. Duty had always won over love. And, damn, it was time to make a change ... and fast. Shit. Why did my boss have to call and ask me to move the witness right after Laney had left on a grocery run? I still didn't understand the Lord's sick sense of humor. There was no need for her to be at Luke Wagner's house this morning. But hell, she'd been there, watching me with a pair of sullen brown eyes. Eyes that had just last night begged ... no, pleaded with me to consume her.
Now I was in the middle of the desert outside El Paso, staring down a bunch of dudes.
"Y'all ready to make the exchange?" I said, hand pressed against my gun while I lumbered out of the Yukon. Bitter wind lashed at my face. Kyle Sampson, the federal marshal, named as the case's new handler, nodded my way as he stepped around the driver's side door of the Lincoln.
I cocked my head, gesturing at the man I'd never seen becoming an ally — old friend and even older enemy Luke Wagner. "Luke. Home sweet home awaits. And thanks for your help."
He kicked the dirt with a brown boot tip. "You've gotta explain things to her, big guy," he drawled, gaze pinned on the dry, hard ground. "She's gonna be pissed, Wilson. I don't want her to think I'm a murderer."
"I'll explain everything when I see her. Although if she hates your guts more than she hates me, that might be a nice outcome."
"In your dreams. She's gonna be damn upset that we went behind her back."
"Jesus, Wagner." I regarded him with animosity. "You and I both agreed in order to protect Laney I'd need to be an ass. If I remember correctly, you even told me you'd lead Laney off her cousin's trail. Didn't exactly go as planned, did it?"
Luke sneered. "That girlfriend of yours can kind of be a pest."
The devil on my shoulder egged me on to press him a little more. I pushed up my hat along my forehead and eyed him down. "Tell me, Luke. Why did you call Laney this morning?"
"Don't look at me like I'm some snitch." He bent down and picked up the duffel bag lying next to my dusty black cowboy boots. "All I wanted to do was tell her I'd be going on a sort of work-related vacation." He slung the bag over a shoulder. "How was I supposed to know you and" — he gestured at Brock Cavanaugh, the Odessa homicide detective my boss had pulled into the loop after he'd gone and stuck his neck in our murder case — "Mr. Big City Cop were going to swing by my humble abode on Christmas to arrest me?"
Brock nudged me in the elbow. "Let's make the deal, Ranger." He checked his watch. "I'm not in the mood to waste Christmas Day out in the goddamn desert."
I grabbed Luke by the arm and moved us both in the direction of the parked Lincoln. "Ready to shuck the Wagner name, pretty boy?"
Luke jerked his arm away. "I thought you knew I asked Santa for a stint in the Witness Protection Program."
Maybe one day we could all have a laugh over some drinks about this shitty-ass predicament. Then again, maybe each and every one of us was looking at thirty to life.
"Okay." I pinched my hat low, moseying out into the middle of the pack. Brock was two feet behind and the fed a bull's-eye aim ahead. Still didn't trust either of the men standing guard at my side. In my line of work, I'd crossed paths with too many dirty cops. Finger nuzzling the trigger of my gun, I reached out and patted Luke on the back. "I'll call the marshal in a day to make sure you were handled with care."
Luke snorted. "Me, fragile? I think you've got me confused with another guy." He looked me square in the eyes. "Promise me you'll call Laney as soon as the dust kicks up beneath your tires."
"Sure thing, old friend." Waving the fed on over, I peered back at Brock. "You wanna get Mr. Wagner's paperwork from the Yukon?"
Brock tipped his chin, gesturing at Luke. "If I'd known this one was going to be such a pain in my ass, I would've never followed up with you after word got around about him bellying up on Redbud. Rat's a rat, if you ask me." Brock rubbed a hand over his face. "Kind of funny, don't you think, that you're sending the guy who screwed your chick into the Witness Protection Program. Fuck, that must feel good, Wilson."
"Not a rat, Detective." Luke took a step, muttering, "I'm just real good at surviving."
Jesus Christ. I placed a hand on Luke's shoulder, gaze narrowed at the good old boy detective. "Just get the goddamn file."
"Fine." Brock hissed out a breath, then walked away.
A crow cackled on a flyby, circling about for the scent of death. When I finished this case, I would settle down. Once I handed off Luke, I'd make sure Laney understood how crazy in love I was with her. My phone sat heavy in the front pocket of my jeans, my fingers itched to make the call, and yet there was something off about the way Brock was taking his godforsaken time to gather the paperwork. The same black crow circled back. Smiling, I turned to Luke — taking my sight off Brock for only a split second — and then it clicked. How in the hell did Cavanaugh know about Laney and Luke? He couldn't, because that little piece of personal information wouldn't have been in the case reports. Shit. I'd ventured out into the desert with a dirty cop. I'd been played a fool.
Instinctively, I reached for my gun and dug a boot heel into the dirt. Brock's mouth curled up in disdain — my gaze fell on his automatic — then he lifted his piece and aimed directly at Luke.
"Lower your weapon, Ranger. I'm only here for the pretty boy. Got no beef with you unless you try to shoot me. Then we have a damn fucking problem."
"Paid you off, too, huh?" I slipped a finger around the trigger. "Did he offer you a sweet retirement package?" My brows arched, and the blood soared as a wave of adrenaline coursed through my every nerve ending. "I'm not in the business of losing a witness."
Brock glanced about the wasteland. "Have it your way, Wilson." Then he pulled the trigger.
"Get the fuck down," I shouted, launching myself in front of Luke while pulling my gun and firing off a round.
The fed hit the ground, his attempt at speech garbled in the blood pooling in this throat. Luke smacked into my side, cursing and out of breath. My hat slipped low on my forehead, and my palms were lined in sweat. A blistering, skin-clawing pain etched up the length of my leg. As my back hit the dirt, I heard the chilling sound of a bullet whizzing past my head.
And all I saw through the blackness was Laney's pretty smile.CHAPTER 2
He hadn't even said good-bye.
Not even a quick text saying, "Please forgive my asshole ways." Bastard. For the hundredth time I pathetically checked the screen on my phone, knowing there were a thousand reasons I shouldn't be concerned whether my Texas Ranger boyfriend called or not. But hell, I was. I might be head over heels in love with Gunner Wilson, and yet the need to take him down just slightly surpassed the urge in me to witness him groveling on hands and knees. More than likely my pissed-off attitude spun from the fact that he'd driven away from the scene of the crime without even uttering a simple explanation as to why he had arrested my oldest childhood friend on murder charges.
Besides, after tonight ... after what I was about to do, well, he'd probably see fit to stick a knife in our relationship and call it a done deal.
Tucking the scarf under my chin, I wrenched open the driver's side door of my cruiser, landing a red cowboy boot in the mush blanketing the wet ground. Ice danced about the foggy gray sky. An empty country skyline scattered with millions of twinkling stars shone brightly overhead. Hands stuffed deep into my jean pockets, I glanced around Bristol Mills and saw beer cans rustling and rolling in the breeze. Nothing but open range spread out before me. Well, except for an idling red Jeep Wrangler.
Chilled to the bone, heart beating louder than a kick drum inside my chest, I watched the gunslinger lumber out of the shadows.
"Laney Briggs, I bet you weren't expecting to meet this way again." The sexy twang echoed in the dark, sounding more shitty than usual.
I knew getting mixed up with this hard-ass a second time was gonna cost me a pretty penny as much as I knew he'd come to my aid at the snap of a finger. Maybe deep down that was why I'd called. Because more than anything right now, I wanted a friend.
"I've had more memorable moments," I told the man strutting my way.
He pushed his Stetson back along his forehead, his gaze sliding up and down the length of my body before latching on my eyes. With that legendary cherry-popper smile plastered across his ruggedly charming face, Colt Larsen said, "Still sporting the red boots, I see."
I had to love this holier-than-thou federal marshal. A little over a year ago, I'd crossed paths with him on a missing person case in Pistol Rock. It turned out not only had the victim willingly disappeared, but she'd happened to be the I-have-a-tendency-to-stick-a-foot-in-my-mouth Colt's ex-wife. Once the shit storm had fizzled out, we'd made a pact to lend a helping hand whenever, no questions asked. Yet as I glanced past the hovering fog and the blinding headlights to lock eyes with my latest mistake, I wanted to rethink the next course of action. Maybe I'd bitten off a little more than I could chew, because standing there captivating my attention in the midwinter Texas frostbite happened to be a cowboy who had more secrets tucked away than even me. I needed his time. I needed his connections. And, boy, wasn't that a twisted mind game.
Leaning into the old cruiser's fender, I looked him up and down. "Still being a cocky shit, huh?" I replied, shifting in my boots.
He widened his stance and scrubbed his chin, allowing that self-satisfied smile to reach clear up into his pinched dimples before throwing another punch my way. "Well, honey pie, if you were packing a pair of balls colder than a polar bear's asshole, you'd be pretty shitty right now, too."
Swaying to the side, his grin broadened, and then the migraine-inducing lawman gave me a snotty wink as he tried to beat me out in the best damn death stare contest ever. "What did the ranger do this time?" he asked, almost comically, waiting for my response.
I shrugged. There wasn't enough time in the day to discuss that whopper.
"Fuck that other boyfriend of yours?"
Okay, that comment didn't settle so well.
Pushing my straw cowboy hat back, I straightened and gestured with a nod over my shoulder at the desolate expanse of Bristol Mills.
"Follow me." I flipped my keys in the palm of my hand and walked toward the driver's side of the old Malibu to pry it open. When I glanced back up, Colt hadn't moved an inch. The likelihood of sex always seemed to have the same effect on a man: brain-dead comatose. "I got us a room," I told him, sliding behind the wheel. "And like you said, it's freaking cold out here."
He laughed. "If I'd known this was a booty call, Deputy, I'd have brought an extra change of boxers."
"Your loss," I shouted over the engine and slammed the door closed. My high beams caught his distancing silhouette as I backed my cop car down the dirt road, leaving everything I considered to be true behind.
Past a field occupied by sickly thin cows and metal scraps, I pulled the cruiser to a stop in front of a mint-green RV perched on top of cinder blocks. The Jeep engine rumbled in the distance. I sucked in a deep, calming breath and snatched the file off the passenger seat and kicked open the door. When my red boots met the cold, hard earth, I understood there would be no turning back now. Slowly, I eased a butt cheek against the car, waiting for the man of the hour to exit his vehicle.
Life was a messy bitch. And I'd already racked up so many mistakes, what difference would it make tossing another log on the fire? I never should've fallen hard for a dirty liar, yet it would've been crazy to think I could outrun fate. At least I wasn't in the market to make another horrible mistake. Well, I hoped to hell not.
I tucked an errant auburn curl behind my ear, shouting as my voice blended in with the call of the wind. "Let's get moving, Larsen. I'm not in the mood to spend Christmas night at a whorehouse with a loose-mouthed cowboy and his even looser hands."
Colt jumped out of his Jeep, bomber jacket zipped up to his neck, duffel bag slung over a wide shoulder, and a frown creasing his taut face. "Pull that stick out of your ass, Laney," he said, his voice a soft murmur against the buffeting wind. "Since I have on good faith you aren't letting anything prod it."
My arms shot out at my sides. "God damn it, Larsen," I yelled, slightly pitchy. "I saved your ass. Remember? Not that cocky lip of yours, but me. So can you please stop trying to piss me off?"
He gave me an odd look; it almost mirrored concern, although Colt Larsen didn't have a soft bone in his body. "How much are you drinking?"
Does a bottle of Jack and a case of beer constitute a drinking problem? Some things were better left unsaid.
Excerpted from Pretty Lawless by Jodi Linton, Karen Grove. Copyright © 2015 Jodi Linton. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.