Fast, cunning, and driven, he'll do whatever it takes to nail the most violent federal perps. But she is the one danger he'll never see coming…
She can't remember when she wasn't afraid. She can't go to the police. And "Olivia Gallagher" is only a day away from fleeing her Idaho wilderness life before biker gang leader Joel Meecum finally catches up with her. So keeping her rugged new neighbor at arm's length is the only safe play. Until Livy can't resist one last hungry chance to feel alive…
For U.S. Marshal Nick Brady, taking his vacation next door to Meecum's ex-girlfriend seemed the smartest way to find him. But suddenly, nothing is making sense. How could this feisty, straight-talking brunette ever get mixed up with Meecum's brutal crew? And why is he breaking his oath and getting so close that all he wants is to keep her safe? Now as the clock ticks, Nick and Livy's only chance at escape may be the one they can't survive…
Praise for Mandy Baxter's U.S. Marshals series
"A little bit of suspense and a whole lot of passion make this the perfect read for adventurous romance fans." RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars
"Fast-paced and full of heat, this is romantic suspense done right!" Julie Ann Walker
"The perfect mix of steam and on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough." Tracey Garvis Graves
"Page-turning, rip-roaring action." Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Mandy Baxter is a part-time pet wrangler, a full-time sun worshipper, and only goes out into the cold when coerced. She loves black clothes, pink appliances and thinks junk food should be a recognized food group. She lives in rural Idaho with her family. For more about Mandy, visit mandy-baxter.com.
Read an Excerpt
At Any Cost
By Mandy Baxter
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Amanda Bonilla
All rights reserved.
"What in the hell am I going to do with you, Brady?"
Deputy U.S. Marshal Nick Brady worked his jaw as he stared at his chief deputy, Doug Metcalf. Not even three months on the job and already he was being reprimanded. A new record. It had taken his SWAT captain a full year before he'd put Nick's ass in a sling. Obviously he was getting better at pissing off his superior officers.
"Well?" Oh, he was actually looking for an answer? Metcalf passed his hand over what was left of his hair and fixed Nick with a stern eye.
"I suppose you could say, keep up the good work, Brady. Keep taking those fuckers down."
Metcalf snorted. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? Hooking and hauling is what you're supposed to be doing for the next six months. Warrants are off-limits until your probation is over. You've had that badge for all of sixty days and you already think you're some sort of badass fugitive hunter. Shit." The chief looked away, disgusted. "You're lucky your brains haven't been splattered all over some poor son of a bitch's wall by now!"
It wasn't for lack of trying. Nick had joined the USMS for one reason and one reason only: fugitive recovery. Hooking and hauling — babysitting sorry bastards as he transported them to and from court and trying to stay awake while their lawyers attempted to save their law-breaking asses — wasn't what he'd had in mind when he applied for the job. Six months of courts duty would be the death of him, so he did what any ambitious cop would do, he went out and found the action on his own.
"I'm working courts now. So what does it matter what I do with my free time?"
"Yeah, now. You were working with the warrants squad for a damned month before anyone realized you weren't with that division! I'll give it to you, Brady, you know how to work the system. How in the hell did you make it past the entrance interviews?" Metcalf asked with disbelief. "You're a smart-assed, insubordinate pain in my ass. I'm starting to think that SWAT gave you a glowing recommendation because they wanted to get rid of you."
Nick had earned every word of that glowing recommendation. He was a stellar cop. That's not to say that his coworkers weren't anxious to see him go. They didn't buy into Nick's Wild West mentality. The way he saw it, the only way to catch a criminal was to step a toe over the line that separated him from them. If that meant bending a rule or two, so be it. And if it resulted in one less murdering son of a bitch on the street, even better. Which was why he'd snuck into warrants his first day on the job, rather than reporting to courts like he was supposed to. He didn't want to escort criminals who'd already been caught. He wanted to do the catching.
That's what they called the marshals on the warrants squads. They were relentless. Like dogs after a bone, they hunted down the most violent and notorious criminals in the U.S. — hell, the world. They kicked down doors knowing that once they walked inside a room, they might not ever walk out. And they did it to make the world a better place. To protect innocent people from evil bastards who wanted nothing more than to do harm. Those men were the reason Nick joined the USMS, and they were the reason he wouldn't ever be satisfied playing babysitter to some piece of shit while he had his day in court.
"There's not a man in this district who wants to work with you right now." Nick had never been much of a team player, but that stung. "You're stubborn, cranky, and goddamned bossy. You need to remember something right now: You're the new guy. You don't pay your dues just like every other man out there" — Metcalf stabbed a finger toward the cubicles beyond his door — "not a damned one of them is going to respect you no matter how many fugitives you haul in. This is a brotherhood, Nick. Believe me, you're going to need them as much as they need you."
Nick wasn't opposed to paying his dues. He simply wanted to pay them out in the field. He got brotherhood. It came with the badge. He wasn't trying to alienate anyone. He needed the opportunity to prove himself. "I've made five arrests in two months. That has to count for something."
"Case files that you stole from other deputies' desks."
Okay, so that probably didn't do much for him in the brotherhood department. "I borrowed them," Nick stressed. "Put them right back where I found them and even filed the paperwork when I was done."
"Well," Metcalf said dryly. "Wasn't that big of you?"
Nick slumped back in his chair. "Why am I being penalized for doing what we're trained for? Isn't it better for everybody if there's one less bad guy on the streets?"
The chief deputy sighed. "Jesus Christ, Brady. Do you always gotta swim upstream?"
Yeah, he guessed he did. Especially if it was the only way to get shit done. "Warrants are what I want to do. But since I've been reassigned to courts, I haven't missed a day."
Metcalf rested his forehead in his palm. "True, you haven't. But every night, weekend, and hour you're not on shift, you're out hunting fugitives. Nick, you've got to slow down. You're going to burn out and you're not going to be any good to anyone. You put your life in those men's hands and they put theirs in yours. If they can't trust you, they won't work with you. You won't last a year here."
"Fine." Nick let out a gust of breath and raked his fingers through his hair. "What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to take a month off." Nick sat up straight and opened his mouth to protest, but Metcalf cut him off. "This isn't negotiable. Take a month, think about this job, why you want it, and what it's going to take to be successful at it. Then, when you come back, you show up when you're supposed to, do your six months of court duty, without any after-hours fugitive hunts. If you can do that, I'll consider taking you off of probation and assigning you to a warrants squad for a full-time rotation. Deal?"
"Do I have a choice?" Nick couldn't do anything about the sourness in his tone.
The chief deputy leveled his gaze. "No. You don't."
"I guess my ass is taking a month off, then."
Without another word, Nick pushed himself out of the chair. This was absolute, utter bullshit. As he made his way down the hallway toward his cubicle, other deputies averted their gazes. No doubt every last one of them knew about the ass chewing he'd just endured. Perfect. His temper mounted with every step he took and it wouldn't be long before Nick lost it entirely. A month? Four fucking weeks of suspension — because there was no way this was a vacation — for going out there and arresting slimy bastards who ought to be in jail in the first place. Fan-fucking-tastic.
Nick threw himself down in his chair and swiveled around toward his computer screen. A file folder peeked out from the top desk drawer and he leaned back to look up the hall and down to see if anyone was watching. He pulled the file out and flipped it open to a picture of one of those slimy assholes who'd avoided a jail cell for far too long. Joel Meecum. Supposed ex-president of the Black Death motorcycle club and a lying, raping, murdering, gunrunning piece of shit. He'd been on the run for the past four years and hit the top of the USMS's Top 15 Most Wanted list at the beginning of the year. Nick flipped through the file at the notes he'd scribbled down. There was a promising lead in the case. One that everyone else had overlooked. A woman. A rumored ex-girlfriend to be exact. An informant had mentioned to the Oakland PD that Joel put the word out that he'd been looking for his ex, a woman by the name of Kari Hanson, and was willing to pay a healthy reward to anyone who might know where she was. The informant knew someone who knew someone who knew someone and so on, who thought Meecum's old lady was hiding out in Idaho somewhere. A small town in the mountains.
All they knew about Meecum's mysterious ex was that she had a tattoo on the inside of her right wrist. When the guys in Oakland ran her name, nothing had come up, which meant that Hanson might have been an alias. Without much to go on, the lead had gone cold. Something about it had stuck with Nick, though. Meecum never would have gone to the lengths he'd gone to find her if she was inconsequential. He was certain that Kari Hanson was the key to finding Meecum.
Nick looked over his shoulder, feeling a lot like a kid with his dad's Playboy. He could make the drive in about nine or ten hours. It wouldn't hurt to check out the lead. It's not like he was hunting a fugitive, per se. Just ... the ex-old lady of a fugitive.
He opened a search engine on his computer and typed in McCall, Idaho. A road trip didn't sound like a bad idea. Besides, there were worse ways to spend a month off.
* * *
Livy Gallagher triple-checked the deadbolt on her front door, the locks on the windows that lined the tiny living room, and the ones beside the dining room table. She'd already checked the back door, kitchen windows, and upstairs windows. This had been her nightly routine for almost four full years. One thousand, three hundred and seventy days of checking, double-checking, and triple-checking every lock in the house before she went to bed.
When she did the math, it seemed so much more depressing. She went to sleep every night afraid. Woke up every morning afraid. Went to work, put in her eight hours, drove home, and the entire time, she looked over her shoulder. She'd been running scared for so long, she couldn't remember what it felt like to not be afraid.
With a long sigh she stared through the old warped glass of the antique windows at the snow falling gently outside. A chill danced over her skin, reminding Livy that she'd better rekindle the fire before she went upstairs or she'd be huddled under the electric blanket before midnight. The old house was quaint, in a this-is-where-Norman Bates-lives sort of way. She snorted. Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad, but it didn't scream welcome! It had been built around 1912 and along with the modest cabin next door, was one of few remaining houses on Payette Lake that hadn't been mowed down and replaced with a six-plus-million dollar "cabin" that the owners stayed in maybe once or twice a year. Either way, she'd scored with this old place because it fit her needs to a T. Out of the way and cheap. But it didn't exactly sport the type of modern insulation that retained heat or was even marginally energy efficient. And since there was a snowball's chance in hell that she'd ever have a man to keep her warm in bed, she left it up to her furry tabby cat and electric blanket to get the job done.
Livy let out a groan. She was living the life of a ninety-year-old woman. If not for the athleticism necessary for her winter job, she would have been convinced she was a twenty-five-year-old nonogenar-ian. She should have been living her life, damn it! Partying, club hopping, sleeping around and making shitty decisions that she'd regret well into her thirties. She should have fallen in love at least three times by now and had her heart broken at least twice. Instead, she was afraid of her own shadow, only talked to people when it was absolutely necessary, and stuck to routines that made people with OCD seem chill.
Livy missed life! She hadn't lived in a long damned time and it wasn't fair. She couldn't even remember what it felt like to be carefree. "Shit on a stick!" Her voice carried throughout the quiet house. And now, she was talking to herself. Great.
Livy grabbed her cell from one of the end tables and turned it over in her hand. She rarely used the prepaid phone, and in a few months, she'd recycle it and buy a new one with a new number. Who knew if it would help to protect her? With technology the way it was, she doubted anyone could stay completely hidden for long. Like the phone she'd eventually trade out, she'd put this town behind her soon as well. Four years was a long time. She couldn't allow herself to put down roots.
With a sigh, Livy swiped her finger across the screen and opened the phone app. She dialed her mom's number and left the pad of her finger to hover over the send button. Snow slid from the roof with a scrape against the tin before it landed on the other side of the porch. Livy's heart leaped up into her throat and she stifled a scream. "It's just snow, you moron. Chill the hell out." Her heart hammered against her rib cage and a burst of adrenaline caused her limbs to quake. "Way to rock that tough-girl vibe." Talking to herself and freaking out over a snow slide. She was one step away from a padded room.
She cleared the call from the display. She only called her mom once every three months. Still a month to go. Frequent calls were easy to track. At least, that's what she'd learned from watching cop shows. A call every few months wouldn't be as noticeable as one every few weeks. It was safer for the both of them if she kept her distance, no matter how damned lonely she might be.
"Come on, Simon. Let's go to bed." The large tabby gave a forlorn meow as he hopped down from the hearth. "You're such a baby," Livy said. "I'll turn on the electric blanket."
He swished his tail from side to side, obviously pleased. It probably would have been better to own a rottweiler or a nice, loyal pit bull. Simon didn't mind being cooped up, though. A dog — especially a large breed — would have gone stir-crazy shut up in the cabin all the time. Besides, she didn't own Simon for protection. She owned him for company. For a warm body to curl up with when she felt as though the loneliness were sucking the air from her lungs. He was a poor substitute for human companionship, but he was a sweetheart. And unlike a boyfriend, at least Simon would never leave the toilet seat up.
She scooped him up into her arms as she turned off the lamp and headed for the stairs. "Let's get a move on, buddy. It's thank-you notes night on Fallon." Simon purred in her grasp. "I know, right? We're livin' on the razor's edge."CHAPTER 2
Nick stared out the window, through the steady fall of snow outside, at the woman he'd spent months researching and the past week tracking down. Sometimes, the key to following even the vaguest lead was simply being too stubborn to let it go. Lucky for Nick, stubborn was the only way he knew to be. A fairly reliable USMS informant had been picked up for petty theft. In order to get out from under a probation violation, he'd offered up info on Meecum's ex. According to the informant, he'd been passing through McCall, Idaho, with a group of buddies for a concert. Among the waitstaff at the venue was a woman who fit the description of Kari Hanson. He'd told the investigating marshal that her nametag read "Livy." The USMS, unable to confirm the intel, assumed the guy had made up the story to get out of being charged.
But not Nick. He'd researched the small town for over a month prior to his mandatory vacation and it had seemed like a promising location for someone to hide out from law enforcement. The town's population barely broke thirty-five hundred. He'd searched DMV records for any vehicles registered to women named Livy. He'd come up empty-handed, but had found two cars registered to women named Olivia. His options had been easy to narrow down from there. One of the Olivias was a seventy-five-year-old retired teacher. Definitely not Meecum's ex. The other had only lived in the county for about four years and other than that, Nick hadn't been able to find anything else out about her. It was like she'd appeared out of thin air, which had only further convinced him that she was, in fact, the woman Joel Meecum had been searching for.
She might be going by Olivia Gallagher now, but that didn't matter. He was on the money. The kitchen of the rented cabin provided the perfect vantage point with a direct view of her driveway, and he watched her talk to her shovel as she moved scoop after scoop of snow. Her grumbles, spoken between bouts of profanity that could be heard even through his kitchen window, had woken him from a deep sleep. Pretty much what he'd expect from a woman who hung out with bikers. Those words would make a sailor proud.
She'd done a damned good job of flying below the radar, but not good enough. No one could simply vanish. Sporting a new name and Social Security number wasn't enough. Living in an obscure town in the middle of BFE wasn't enough. Nick had only set up shop in the cabin across from hers yesterday afternoon. Not even twelve hours in McCall and he had eyes on his target.
Excerpted from At Any Cost by Mandy Baxter. Copyright © 2016 Amanda Bonilla. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
## FABULOUS. This book was so much fun to read. I loved Livy and her playfulness. And her connection with Nick was tremendous. The only thing I didn't like was the instant forgiveness. In my mind there should've been some groveling involved after all of Nick's deceptions. But the rest was fantastic. I recommend this entire series. The suspense, intrigue, humor, and romance make a perfect combination.
Each installment of the series gives us a new couple to love and this particular office of the USMS seems to have a concentration of the hottest guys the Marshals' Service has to offer. Nick Brady is a lone ranger and single-minded one at that, which is not compatible with what the Marshals stand for and after one too many reprimands for disobeying orders he is forced to take some time off to get his act together and learn the benefits of teamwork. Like that's even possible. Nick joined the Marshals for one reason only: to apprehend fugitives and a forced vacation isn't going to stop him. His time will be best spent following up on leads that could help him catch one of the most wanted fugitives, starting with tracking down his rumored ex-girlfriend. Olivia Gallagher has been in hiding for the last four years, but not for the reason everyone expects. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time and in possession of information that could bring down several criminal enterprises, her best bet is to keep moving to avoid being found, but her new next door neighbor tempts her step out of her lonely existence and live a little. This book is actually slower than the previous books in the series as Nick and Livy circle each other for a bit as the story builds momentum, but once it takes off it's non-stop until the end. Livy is not what Nick was expecting and he can't reconcile the woman before him with the hardened biker he's hunting. While he understands her need for caution he can't help her unless she trusts him with the truth. How will their relationship be affected when Nick's deception comes to light? I don't know about you, but knowing who the bad guy was and what his plans were did not lessen the tension for me. In fact, I was on tenterhooks waiting for the final showdown and Nick and Livy's growing romance served to distract me. I was quite taken by surprise at the erotic and fairly explicit sexual encounters and the dirty talk that I went back to all three previous books to make sure that I wasn't missing anything. No, I wasn't. In addition to being the office with the highest number of hot deputy marshals, these guys have the art of dirty talking down pat. Livy's effect on Nick was very obvious and she did what a forced vacation could not: she made him understand the value of teamwork and shifted his intense focus on fugitive apprehension to her. AT ANY COST was very entertaining and enjoyable and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series. Hopefully, there'll be more after it. Disclaimer: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Great read filled with romance, suspense, & lots of sexy time. Livy is on the run from a biker that killed her no good father & wants something back that she stole. Livy has been alone & running for 4 years & finally lets her guard down & falls for her sexy neighbor Nick Baker who is a US Marshall. The ensuing story is full of adventure that eventually leads to a HEA. Advanced Reader Copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Fast, cunning, and driven, he'll do whatever it takes to nail the most violent federal perps. But she is the one danger he'll never see coming… She can't remember when she wasn't afraid. She can't go to the police. And "Olivia Gallagher" is only a day away from fleeing her Idaho wilderness life before biker gang leader Joel Meecum finally catches up with her. So keeping her rugged new neighbor at arm's length is the only safe play. Until Livy can't resist one last hungry chance to feel alive… For U.S. Marshal Nick Brady, taking his vacation next door to Meecum's ex-girlfriend seemed the smartest way to find him. But suddenly, nothing is making sense. How could this feisty, straight-talking brunette ever get mixed up with Meecum's brutal crew? And why is he breaking his oath and getting so close that all he wants is to keep her safe? Now as the clock ticks, Nick and Livy's only chance at escape may be the one they can't survive… Review: Livy is so in over her head when she tries to run and hide from her father's killer, but she manages to do so for four years. Until "Do whatever it takes" Nick decides to steal the case and goes looking for Livy. I like that Livy is smart and basically flies under the radar for four years while the head of a biker gang is looking for her. Nick and his need to not play by the rules ruins it for her. I have to say Nick is not a very likable character for most of the book because of his "does not play well with others attitude" and his going after Livy sexually while staking her out. Obviously, both keep secrets from each other that could hurt each other, but at first Nick's seem a little on the sleazy side. I do come around to liking him. Their intimate scenes are very sexy and you can feel their desire for each other. The story really wasn't suspenseful or nail biting until the very end. I would classify this as a romance with some suspenseful elements instead of a romantic suspense. I would have liked a little more action in this story, I think would have made me like it more. I enjoyed the story and would be interested in reading more by this Author. 3.5Stars *I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.*
An awesome read and an excellent addition to the series! I really loved these characters. Olivia is fun and quirky although she has every reason to be skittish and standoffish (is that a word??). And the very last thing she needs complicating her already complicated life is a cop renting the cabin next door. Nick Brady is ambitious and determined to move ahead with his career with the US Marshalls but some of his antics have landed him in hot water and on a mandatory vacation. So he decides to combine a little business in with his vacation. Locating the girlfriend of Joel Meechum is his top priority and when he finds out the cabin next door to her is available he springs into action. However the woman he finds there is nothing like he expected and he quickly finds himself wanting to protect her rather than arrest her!! Definitely a book I recommend!
U.S. Marshal Nick Brady's rebellious streak has landed him on a mandatory vacation, and the idea of stepping away from work for a month is almost more than he can bare, there are cases calling his name and he knows they will continue to do so while he is on hiatus, so he decides to sneakingly take a little work on vacation with him. There is a dangerous biker on the run and Nick has the perfect plan to finally capture him, he's planning to track down the biker's ex-girlfriend, which will hopefully put him right on the path of the criminal. What Nick doesn't account for is falling for his beautiful new neighbor, now his feelings for her have him crossing lines he knows he shouldn't and could ultimately put his future as a U.S. Marshal at risk... Fearing for her life Olivia Gallagher took to running, and has been on the run for sometime now, and constantly looking over her shoulder for fear her past is going to catch up to her. For the last four years she has been hiding out, taking random jobs to keep herself afloat, and choosing never to put her trust in anyone for fear of being hurt again. Her life has been quite lonely for the last four years, she has never found anyone that she has felt comfortable enough sharing her past with... that is until she meets her new neighbor Nick. There is something about him that makes her feel safe, safer than she has felt in a really long time, and the more she is around him the more she wants to let him in, and show him her true self. She begins to think she may just have found someone who she can finally open up to, and who may be able to help her face her past, and put a end to the the danger that has been following her for so long... This was my second visit to this series, and I have to say I enjoyed it just as much as the first, the story line jumped out and grabbed me right from the start and continued to grip my attention right up until the last page was swiped! I thoroughly enjoyed watching Nick and Olivia's unfold, it was action packed, and oh so steamy, they had me on the edge of my seat (and blushing) the whole way through!! If you haven't had the opportunity to read something from Ms. Baxter yet, I highly encourage you to remedy that ASAP, not only are you missing on some exceptional literary escapes, but also the opportunity to meet some truly special characters that are certain to steal your heart!! If you like your stories packed with edge of your seat action, spine-tingling mystery, and lots of hot and steamy between the sheets moments, then I highly recommend you pick up this book, it's sure to satisfy!!
Nick Brady, having moved from SWAT to the U. S. Marshall Service, is a gung-ho seeker of bad guys and not thrilled with the six months he is supposed to spend doing menial tasks while learning to work with his teammates. When told by his supervisor to take a “vacation” he decides to not heed the advice he has been given but instead spend the month trying to bring one more criminal fugitive to justice. With this in mind he moves in next to a young woman he hopes will provide a clue. Little does he know that he will fall head over heels in love with sexy sassy Livy…or is she really Kari? This is an action-packed, intense, steamy story. I admit I skimmed at times because for some reason Nick and Livy did not hold my attention as well as I had hoped they would. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for this book in exchange for my honest review.