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Former Ranger turned newly minted security agent Lex Sanborn looked at the photocopied page of the Bible he'd been handed and felt his eyes widen in shock. "Thou shalt commit adultery?" Granted, he hadn't been to church in years, but he certainly didn't remember learning this particular version in Sunday school class.
Brian Payne, Jamie Flanagan and Guy McCann, owners of the elite security company who'd just hired him, all chuckled, presumably at his slack-jawed expression.
"That's why it's called the 'Wicked Bible,'" Payne explained. "This version was printedaccidentally, of coursein 1636 and there are only believed to be eleven surviving copies in the world. The New
York Public Library has one in its rare books section, there's another in Branson, Missouri, at the Bible museum, and the British Library actually had it on display, opened to the page of the misprint, during part of '09."
"It's very valuable," Jamie chimed in. Sprawled in a leather recliner with a sports drink in his hand, he was affable and easygoing and Lex had liked him instantly. Had taken an immediate liking to all of them actually.
Jamie Flanagan had been the original player until he met and married Colonel Garrett's granddaughter and purportedly sported a genius-level IQ. That quick brain combined with a substantial amount of brawn made him a force to be reckoned with. And with a lucky streak that bordered on the divine, Guy Mc-Cann's ability to skate the thin line between recklessness and perfection was still locker-room lore.
Known in certain circles as the Specialist, Brian Payne was coolly efficient and had strategy down to an art form. With an unmatched attention to detail, there was no such thing as half-assed in his world. He didn't tolerate it.
He was damned lucky to have a job here, Lex thought, thankful again to Colonel Carl Garrett for the recommendation. Was this what he'd imagined he'd be doing for the rest of his life? No. But six months ago he'd thought his life was over and that significantly changed things. Had changed him in ways that he wasn't altogether proud of, in ways he'd never, ever anticipated.
"It's worth around a hundred grand in today's market," Guy remarked.
Lex whistled low. Now it was beginning to make sense. He looked again at the picture Payne had handed him and searched the image for clues. The snapshot depicted an old Coca-Cola sign that had been propped up on a dusty counter covered with lots of other junk. A blue mason jar with a rusty lid, wooden spools, an old teakettle and Ah, he thought, spying the black spine of the Wicked Bible just below the teakettle.
"So this is it? This is what they're after?"
"Yes," Payne told him. "At least, we think so. Bess came to see me yesterday and brought that with her. She said she'd gotten a few emails about the picture, but not the sign, which was what she had for sale. She's got an online store as well as the brick-and-mortar kind," he explained. "She says the emailer wanted to know where the picture was taken and that she wouldn't have told them regardless, but she genuinely didn't remember."
"She's a junk dealer?" he asked.
Payne almost smiled and a flash of humor momentarily lit his gaze. "She rescues antiques," he corrected, then gestured to a pair of old glass gas pumps in the corner. "For instance, I bought those from her. She has a great eye for things that are different. I've known her for years." His grin widened. "And for what it's worth, I wouldn't ever call her that to her face."
Lex nodded, appreciating the advice. If he was going to have to work with this old woman, then he didn't want to piss her off. In his limited experience, mostly with his grandparents, older folks were funny about their stuff. If he was reading this correctly, based on Payne's advice, Bess Cantrell was the same way.
"At any rate, she didn't hear from the emailer again and had chalked it up to an odd occurrence, nothing more," Payne continued. "Then night before last her store was broken into and the external hard drive to her computer was stolen. While the police were still there doing the report, Bess got a call from one of her clients, Walker Wiggins, who said a man had come to see him about a book"
"The one in the picture obviously," Lex said, nodding grimly.
"and that when he'd refused to let the man search his property, the stranger had gotten violent and tried to push past him into his house. His dog came to his rescue and ultimately sent the man packing, but Walker was shaken and concerned all the same."
Heartened to hear that the man had an animal willing to protect himhe adored dogs and had briefly considered going into veterinary school before joining the militaryLex nevertheless frowned. "Why had he called Bess to tell her all of this?"
"Because the man had told Walker that he was a friend of Bess's and had gotten his address from her." He shrugged. "Walker knew Bess better than that and called her to give her a heads-up. Since then, three other clients have been contacted in this manner, and on this last occasion, one was actually hurt."
Lex's blood boiled. So whoever this jackass was, he was dangerous and he was a bully. Bastard, Lex thought. No doubt the majority of Bess's clients were her age and older and they were being harassed and manhandled in their own homes over something that was, if they even had it, theirs.
"Naturally, Bess doesn't want anyone to get hurt, particularly any of her clients, and doesn't think that the police are going to truly be able to help her in time to prevent either a theft or a tragedy" he grimaced "or possibly both, unfortunately."
"So that's where you come in," Flanagan told him. "We're going to put a man at her store as a safety measure and you and Bess are going to go on the road and try to (a.) catch this guy and (b.) get to the book before he does. Obviously whoever has the book doesn't realize what it's worth. This person, whoever he is, no doubt is banking on that."
Lex nodded, certain that he could handle this. He only hoped that Bess didn't slow him down. He knew there were a lot of spry older people, ones who walked daily and kept themselves in shape, and he sincerely hoped that Bess Cantrell had done the same. If not, then he could easily see this becoming a problem. He inwardly grimaced. If she had a small bladder or a bad hip, they were going to be in serious trouble.
Honestly, he didn't see any good reason why Bess had to go along. He would be able to move faster without her and, so long as he had a list of her clients and a good map, he could take care of everything himself. After a moment, he said as much. "Look, I appreciate that Mrs. Cantrell wants to look after"
"It's Miss," Payne corrected mildly. "She's not married."
A spinster then. Whatever. "her clients," he continued. "But is there any particular reason why I can't do this without her?"
Jamie Flanagan and Guy McCann shared a brief look and McCann was obviously trying to keep from smiling. For whatever reason, Lex knew that anything that would make the irreverent McCann want to grin couldn't be anything that would work in Lex's favor. He studied all three of them again and knew that they were sharing some sort of private joke.
And it was at his expense. Excellent.
"You can't do it without her because she's not going to let you," Payne said, releasing a long sigh. "These are her clients and she's the one who has inadvertently put them at risk. Also, a lot of these people aren't going to trust anyone but her, and if you show up without her, you're not any more credible than the other guy. Much as I'm sure you don't think so now, it's better that she goes with you."
Lex nodded, resigned. What choice did he have really? This was his first assignment and he was accustomed to taking orders. These weren't orders, exactly, but they might as well be, and he had no intention of rocking the boat.
Honestly, when the doctor had told him he was never going to get a full range of motion back in his shoulder and that there wasn't going to be any way he could continue with his unit, he'd been equally devastated and relieved. How two such opposing reactions could take place in the same body was simply amazing to him, but he had felt them both all the same. Devastated that his career was over, relieved because, for the first time in his life, to his absolute shame he was afraid of dying. Afraid that that selfsame fear would prevent him from acting, from doing what needed to be done.
And a fearful soldier might as well be a dead one.
Born into a serviceoriented family, Lex had been raised with the belief that every human being needed to leave the world a better place than they found it. His father had served in the army for twenty years, then went on to become a police officer. His mother was a retired schoolteacher who helped inmates at the local jail who didn't have their general education diplomasGEDsto get them so that they could apply for further continuing education classes. His brother was a medic, currently serving with the air force in Afghanistan, and his sister was a nurse.
His entire family contributed to the greater good of the world and he was unbelievably proud of them. They each had a purpose and, even though he'd had one up until six months ago, he'd never truly felt like his feet had been on the right path. He'd loved the military, had a tremendous regard for the men and women who served, and he'd been proud to be a part of it. But he'd always had the nagging suspicion that it wasn't what he was meant to do, to be.
Truthfully, he couldn't say being a security expert was what he wanted, either, but at least he was out of the military and would have time to pursue other interests.
He would be lying if he said there wasn't a horrible sense of guilt at leaving. He had friends over there on the front linesmost specifically Jeb Anderson, whom he'd gone through ROTC withand coming home, out of the line of fire, felt wrong in a way that he couldn't accurately describe.
And the horrible part? The part that made him sick to his stomach with guilt, regret and shame?
He was glad to be home. Thankful to be out of the line of fire.
He'd had nightmares the first few months after he'd taken the hithits actually, four right into his shoulder, shredding the muscle, nicking an artery, shattering the boneand the only thing that had helped was the stray dog that had attached itself to him on his way to the car after therapy one day.
A scraggly big-eared mutt Lex had named Honey because of her golden color. She'd been dirty and half-starved and she'd looked at him with the most haunted and hopeless big brown eyes and he hadn't thought twice about taking her home. She'd spent the first night on the rug next to his bed and, following a particularly horrible nightmare, had moved into the bed, against his back. Within a week, the dreams had stopped and there was something about her reassuring presenceknowing that they'd sort of saved each otherthat made him feel like he was on his way to a recovery of sorts.