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By Lorie O'Clare
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2012 Lorie O'Clare
All rights reserved.
Micah Jones studied Greg King as he stood at the entrance of KFA, King Fugitive Apprehension. King squinted against the sun, which was hovering just over the horizon and not quite ready to set. King was a good boss — not that Micah had many in his past to compare the man to. But he didn't act like he was better than God.
It hadn't taken long for Micah to see just how good King was. The rumors about his reputation were right. King was an incredible bounty hunter and was clear when it came to explaining how he wanted things done. Micah was cool with cut-and-dry orders. He didn't have a problem going out and doing as he was told. It's what he'd done most of his life.
This wasn't a safe line of work. Micah didn't flinch over potential danger, though. The job was a lot safer than his last, and he was still alive. At twenty-eight, Micah had lived longer than many others in his former line of work.
King walked out of the KFA office with his wife beside him. The man was almost six and a half feet and somewhere around fifty years old. He didn't bark orders. Even when he got pissed, he growled instead of yelling.
But then, why bother raising your voice when your mere presence in a room grabbed everyone's attention? The man stood a few inches taller than Micah. In the three months Micah had been in Los Angeles, he'd grown to respect King. He reminded Micah of his father. There were differences, but both men were careful, levelheaded, and knew what the fuck they were doing.
King looked at Micah as he joined him in the curved driveway where their trucks were parked. Haley King, Greg's wife, remained next to him looking over paperwork.
"You ready to head out?" King asked, and looked over at Ben Mercy, their bounty-hunter-in-training. The kid wasn't licensed yet, and therefore got to do all the grunt work. Mercy never complained.
"Always ready," Micah answered, feeling pumped. Ever since Haley had described their job today, he'd been fired up to chase someone down.
There was a slight smirk on King's face. "You think so?"
"Sure do," Micah grunted, doing his best to keep a tap on his adrenaline. He didn't want to sound too excited about trailing someone again. "Ready when you are."
"Good. Got the trucks gassed up?" King asked Ben.
"Yes, sir," Ben said, straightening to attention. Everyone was laid-back at KFA, but Ben always acted as if he might salute King anytime the man spoke to him. "Ran them all through the car wash earlier this morning, too."
King nodded and glanced at the trucks in his driveway. "Look good," he muttered, his tone changing and sounding less aggressive when he spoke to the kid. "You can go with us on this one, Mercy. Haley will explain what you'll be doing."
Ben looked ready to split with pride.
"Micah, you're in unit two. Ben, you're in three." King thumbed at the two trucks parked behind his as his expression turned serious. "Okay, here is the deal," King continued, and glanced down at paperwork Haley was showing him. "You've already been shown Larry Santinos's stats and picture. Haley has copies of his photograph for both of you. Pin it on your dash so his face is fresh in your head. We're going in under the assumption Santinos is armed and dangerous. You understand the drill, right, Jones?"
"Capture and detain, no kill," Micah recited, and kept his hands relaxed at his sides. He never knew how desperately he craved having a gun back in his hand until he tried not using it. "We haul them in so a court-appointed lawyer can escort them into a courtroom where they are tried and convicted and more of the taxpayers' money is spent daily."
King grinned and Haley looked up from the papers in her hand. She smiled up at her husband. Micah had repeated what King ranted about on a regular basis. King wasn't cynical, but from time to time cases were sent over to them where everyone would be a lot better off if KFA just took out the scumbag once they found him. Micah was all for doing it that way.
Greg studied him with bright blue eyes. "That's right," he said slowly. "We never kill them. We haul them in so our wonderful judicial system can drag them through the system."
Haley was one hot MILF — although Micah would take that thought to his grave. She handed Micah and Ben pictures of Santinos.
"We're resetting the GPSs," she said, picking up where Greg left off. "One of our informants just sent word that Santinos is heading to his club early today. He should be at Club Paradise in about thirty minutes."
She stepped around her husband, then headed over to the three black Avalanches parked in a row outside the King's beachfront home and the KFA office. "It will only take a second to program the GPSs, then we can head out."
"And we stay together on the highway." Greg King looked pointedly at Ben. "I'm lead. No shortcuts."
"At this time of day traffic shouldn't be too bad," Haley added, then climbed into the rear of Ben's truck.
Micah gave up trying to convince Haley he knew how to program the GPS in their trucks. He waited patiently outside the middle truck that he would be driving until Haley finished with Ben's GPS and headed to Micah's truck. Haley was all business as she opened his driver-side door and climbed in, then typed their destination into the small GPS in the dash.
Greg and Haley had two sons who were around Micah's age. King occasionally reminded Micah of his father, but Haley wasn't anything like the memories he had of his mother, which were vague at best. Micah hadn't seen his mother since he was ten but would bet good money she didn't look anything like Haley. He wisely diverted his eyes from her firm, tan legs when she hopped out of his truck a moment later.
"Once we get there, and before you get out of your trucks, be ready with your phones. Haley will three-way us in, then we take our positions." King stood outside his truck at the lead and pointed a finger at Micah and Ben. "No one jumps the gun on this one. This guy is big-time. We take him down neat and easy. No one gets carried away. Do you hear me?"
Micah gave a swift nod and climbed inside the black Avalanche parked behind King's. KFA had purchased two more trucks identical to the one they already owned right before Micah started working for them. He didn't care about the new-car smell, but having all the latest conveniences on his dash worked for him.
Three black Avalanches made them a bit conspicuous. Micah had spent almost ten years mastering how to be invisible. This wasn't his show, though. He followed King's lead. The man knew what he was doing.
Micah had to admit, when the three trucks drove down the interstate, it was a power trip. They appeared a force to be reckoned with. And they were. Micah had done his research. Greg King's impressive reputation wasn't just talk. KFA was the best bounty-hunting business in the United States. King knew how to arrive near a scene with all three trucks and park so no one noticed them. He also knew when to arrive making a show so their fugitive knew that his or her run was over.
Micah preferred his hunts more reticent. It was how he'd been trained. King had a hell of a lot of knowledge, and Micah would learn a lot from the man. Hunting wasn't the same as killing, and no one would come looking for a man with Micah's very specific qualifications at KFA. But broadening his horizons would only make him more versatile once he returned to his old life. He only had nine more months to wait out until this life was over and his previous life was back in full force.
Micah sat in his truck, driver's-side door open, and watched Greg and Haley talk to each other before she leaned against her giant of a husband and kissed him. Greg swatted her rear when she turned from him for the passenger side of their truck.
There were some things Micah doubted he'd ever learn from his boss. King had a relationship with his wife that was something out of fairy tales. The two of them were best friends, something Micah wouldn't believe possible after so many years of marriage if he weren't witnessing it for himself.
He couldn't remember the last time his dad had mentioned his mom. She'd been out of their lives for so long, it was as if she'd never been part of their small family to begin with. Maybe he'd never been part of a traditional nuclear family like the Kings, but Micah was proud of what he, his dad, and his uncle had accomplished. In circles not quite as public as KFA's, Micah's family had at least as strong a reputation.
"Jones," King called out.
"What's up?" Micah put his past out of his head and focused on King when he walked over to Micah's truck.
"Something about Santinos's MO bugs me." King rested his forearm on the top of the truck door and leaned in to talk to Micah. "Santinos has managed Club Paradise for several years now. The club was a dive and he turned it into a reputable, successful nightclub. The profile we've worked up on Santinos doesn't make him sound like the kind of person who would take a dive and turn it into a gold mine. The man is flashy. He loves his expensive clothes and fast cars. He lives on the edge, tossing money around as if it meant nothing to him. Nothing in his MO suggests he has any type of bookkeeping experience. Nor does it sound like he cares about budgeting."
"Maybe he doesn't."
"I think the man might have a partner."
"Someone under the radar?" Micah was intrigued. A hunt always proved more challenging when the prey was a bit more elusive than usual.
"What I'm thinking."
King's bright blue eyes pinned Micah with a hard look. King knew telling Micah his thoughts would intrigue and grab his interest. Micah waited out the moment, holding the older man's gaze. He'd learned shortly after joining the KFA team that King was really good at reading people, often pinning their qualities and faults down after talking to them for only a few minutes. What impressed Micah more than anything was how the man could also nail a person without even knowing him. It was a trait Micah would love to possess.
"I'm thinking he doesn't have a concept of what it takes to build a business like Club Paradise, and someone else is handing him an allowance to serve as their front man."
"Then nailing Santinos won't end the money laundering. But is that our problem?"
King sighed. He let go of the top of Micah's car door and straightened, cracking his knuckles as he turned and stared toward his truck idling in front of Micah's.
"The bounty is on Santinos," King said slowly. "We'll get him and turn him over to the authorities. That's our job. On our way over, I'm going to put a call into the detective on this case. I know the guy. We go back," he added, giving no indication if he missed the twenty years he'd been a cop for LAPD. Once he retired from the force, he had opened up KFA. King spoke matter-of-factly as he continued. "This is simply a hunch. So when we're there, here is what I want you to do. After our phones are patched together, I'll position everyone around the building. There is a back door to the club, and at this hour, I'm told it's often propped open while the cooks are in the kitchen preparing food for the evening. I want you to head in there and find the office. Find out what they're doing in that office. If I'm right, whoever is back there will be handling the club's real set of books."
King was always right when it came to profiling. It was uncanny.
"So while you are getting our man, you're sending me in to help out the cops?"
Greg King stared at him a moment, his gaze shifting as he appeared to be determining something about Micah. "Yup," he said finally, and pushed away from the truck. "I wouldn't be surprised if Santinos is hardwired. Marketing gurus often like to keep close tabs on their covers. He might tip off whoever is in the office when we take him down."
"I can handle it."
"I wouldn't have assigned this part of the job to you if I thought you couldn't." It was as close to a compliment as King would ever give.
Micah watched his boss return to his truck, climb in, and start it. In that short time, the sun had quit procrastinating and finally dipped below the horizon. Evening shades of pinks and oranges streaked across the sky, making for one hell of a sunset. Micah glanced at the clock on his dash and put the truck in drive, pulling out of the circular drive of the Kings' home and office, then looked in his rearview mirror when Ben pulled out behind him.
Three months wasn't long at all for a bounty hunter. Micah had helped chase down plenty of criminals skipping out on their bail. There had only been a couple of cases that got interesting like this one. Greg and Haley had been profiling this case for a while. Micah had overheard them discussing it, and now he understood why. The information they'd been given on Santinos hadn't added up for them. It was the irony of all ironies that King chose Micah to help out the cops.
Micah never once imagined working like this. Not only was he bringing in men and women who tried bailing on court dates or skipping out on their bonds, but now he was going even farther and searching for a person that the law hadn't found yet. He'd hunted down more people than he could count in his previous life who were guilty of crimes but not yet convicted. Micah had never brought them in; he'd killed them.
That was Micah Mulligan, though, and for now that man was buried so far under the radar, not even Greg King would find him. Micah pulled into traffic as he stayed a car length behind his boss. It felt good to be given a loose rein on this one. He wouldn't let it go to his head, though. Get cocky and take a bullet. Guaranteed.
Micah reached under his shirt for the silver pendant he always wore. The flat coin-shaped pendant had an engraving of Saint Michael on it. His father had given it to him when he was a boy after Micah had killed his first deer.
"Saint Michael protects hunters. You're part of an elite, proud group of men now," Micah's father had told him. Micah had stood tall and proud. That day he had felt like a man, just like his father and uncle. "That doesn't make you invincible. Remember that every time you aim your rifle, son."
Micah thought about his old man and his uncle, hunters in the purest sense. Micah had learned how to hold a shotgun, aim, and fire when he'd barely been taller than the gun was long. Hauling home large game had been a thrill through his teenage years. By the time he'd hit his early twenties, there wasn't a creature on God's earth Micah couldn't take down with a single shot.
Except for one.
When his father and uncle moved just outside Pontoria, Minnesota, a town in the northern part of the state, and beautiful country, Micah had been seventeen. With his mother long gone, and the old man and uncle all he had in the world, he trudged along begrudgingly. Their reason for leaving Evansville, Indiana, the only home he'd remembered up to that point, hadn't been clear to Micah at the time. He had seen Pontoria and the many lakes and wilderness around the town as boredom personified. It wasn't until he was much older that he learned the truth behind the Mulligan brothers' relocation.
Except now, for the following year, he wasn't a Mulligan. He was a Jones.
The pendant warmed between his fingers as Micah silently mumbled words to Saint Michael and rubbed it one last time before slipping it back under his shirt. His grandfather had been the strongest influence when it came to prayer. Micah's dad went through the motions. Micah wasn't sure why he always wore the pendant or said silent prayers. There was no harm in it. If he let go of the traditions his father and grandfather always followed, something bad might happen. Although what had already happened was bad enough.
Micah focused on King's taillights ahead of him as twilight slowly drifted into night. Maybe there was a Mulligan curse. His father, uncle, and Micah had made the best of the curse, or gift, they were born with. For a number of years the three of them handpicked the jobs they took, and made a lot of money as agents hired to kill — assassins. Within a few years the Mulligan reputation grew to the point where they'd moved into some incredibly elite circles. None of them had hesitated when the U.S. government started paying attention to their success record. Maybe they should have. But the money was incredible. The jobs were more than satisfying. The power was addictive.
Micah still firmly believed they'd been set up. They hadn't learned that their target was CIA until after Micah had put a bullet through his heart. His last kill had brought an end to the life they'd led for seven years. Micah's dad and uncle quickly devised a plan. Mulligans didn't go to jail. That same night they learned that Micah's target had been CIA — and that now the elusive branch was inquiring into his death — Micah, his father, and uncle had packed their bags and left their home, each of them going in a different direction. For a full year they wouldn't contact one another. None of them knew where the other two went. Three months of that year had passed. Three months now that he'd been Micah Jones instead of Micah Mulligan.
Excerpted from Slow Heat by Lorie O'Clare. Copyright © 2012 Lorie O'Clare. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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