He knew it
was a dream.
sister had been dead fifteen years, but she stood there before him, the scent
of lavender as much of a ghost as she was. He never understood why a
seventeen-year-old girl wanted to smell like flowers, but Brenna surely did.
Maybe it had been her fascination with the color purple that led to her floral
obsession. She had always gravitated toward anything sporting shades of dark
pink through magenta. He hadn’t had a problem with that. He never did care for
the smell, though.
it—those scents of lavender and
blood—haunted his dreams, his sister’s lifeless body standing there as she
stared off into nothing, rather than resting on the gurney as he remembered
seeing her when he came to identify her remains. This recurring dream used to
freak him out, but now he knew when he’d wake up, he’d instantly miss the
morbid sight. Not because he wanted to relive that day, rather he knew these
fleeting moments were all he’d ever have of her again.
He knew his
sister was going to ask that, because she always did.
never deviated. “In Hell.”
you?” she asked as tears welled in her lifeless eyes. Blade was glad she didn’t
look at him. It would tear his heart out every time he dreamed about her.
said without emotion. That sonofabitch had killed his baby sister. Of course
he’d hurt him. He’d made him bleed out of many holes.
was bloodcurdling, and Blade bolted upright in his bed before he awakened
fully. He blinked into the darkness and groaned at the sudden throbbing
headache as the dream’s intensity subsided.
tequila,” he muttered as he tossed the sheets off him. Oh, he couldn’t blame
the dream on the alcohol, but the pickaxe pounding into his skull he could. He
rubbed his face as he stood, knowing it wouldn’t help his state any, but doing
it regardless. Drowning his sorrows in liquor wasn’t the answer, but it sure
dulled the pain.
Not that he
was still hurting over the loss of his sister. He loved her, sure, and missed
her terribly but that was fifteen years ago. Even when he dreamed about her, he
no longer felt that all-consuming, crushing pain. Time had scabbed over those
wounds. No, the new ache he’d been self-medicating with a bottle of Jose Cuervo
was all because of one little FBI agent.
woman gutted him, and the worst part was he didn’t even know why. He hadn’t
known her very long. Only worked with her briefly once before they’d been
assigned to the Oberman case. Something changed in him when he’d been working
with her, and spending a couple of months in close quarters had been too much
for his growing attraction. One night, he’d given into his desire, and she’d
been so hot and passionate for him that something within him had snapped. Never
in his life had he ever wanted to just be
with a woman before.
As in have
her and not let her go.
happy hopping from one bed to another, playing the field. He treated women with
the utmost respect, but he’d never been one to settle down. That night, though,
with her in his arms, he’d felt this overwhelming need to possess her in every
the other hand, had other plans. The morning after their night of passion,
she’d thrown up walls and wouldn’t speak of what had happened between them.
Before he knew it, he was back in Arkansas, and she’d flown off to wherever the
feds stationed her. It wasn’t as if the bureau needed her in this town after
his best friend and fellow Bang Shift crew member, Brody “Brutus” Jackson,
killed Xan’s sinister mafia boss ex-husband. Working with the FBI, it had been
their assignment to protect that woman, but even back then he’d felt there was
something a little special about Anna. They’d lost touch after that assignment,
but working together again had ignited whatever he’d felt for her before into raw,
had left, and Blade hadn’t heard from her since.
he wouldn’t have cared. It was easier when the woman of the day—or
afternoon—walked away first. Anna was different, though. He knew it, just
didn’t know why.
And she was
seized as he grabbed his pants, foregoing a shower. No, she wasn’t gone like his sister. Just out of his
life, and that was the bitch of it. There was a time he would have denied
himself a woman like her because he hadn’t been worthy.
he would never be.
Brenna flitted through his mind as he dressed. He grabbed the cheap body spray
to douse some of the tequila seeping through his pores. He’d just get dirty
again and shower tonight when he got home from the shop like he did last night
and every evening after working his shift. A quick squirt of hair gel, and an
overly long tooth brushing, and he was as ready as he was going to be.
grabbing his shop and motorcycle keys, he reached into his nightstand and
pulled out his combat knife, so old the engraving had long worn off. He studied
the cold steel he carried every day along with a second pocket knife and
remembered again the last time he’d used it.
he’d killed Jeremiah Ward.
to leave, but stopped midway when he caught his reflection in the bathroom
mirror. He stared at his hair, unblinking, knife still in his grip. The guys of
the Bang Shift crew gave him hell over his spiked ‘do, thinking his handle had
come naturally from his choice of hairstyles.
down at the blade in his hand, even though he hadn’t needed a reminder that the
name had nothing do to with any spikes on his head. He’d just never corrected
easier that way. Much, much easier. He liked when his skeletons stayed buried.
Except for when he slept, he had no problem shoving them away and pretending
things were normal. It was under the cloak of darkness when they pushed their
way to the surface that he had no way of ignoring them. But in all honesty,
there was no getting away from his past.
him from trying to be Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky, cracking jokes and flirting with just
about every woman who crossed his path. He’d been fortunate enough that
embracing life that way helped him ignore the painful reminder of his youth.
But he’d had a hell of a time keeping a smile on his face ever since Anna Sue
blew into his life and left on the same breeze. He had a new ache now, one that
wrenched those old feelings shortly after Brenna died front and center.
not feel that crushing pain regularly anymore over that horrible loss, but he coped the same way. Looking for answers
to all his life’s questions at the bottom of tequila bottles. Damn answers he
needed were never there.
feelings now made one thing crystal clear…he’d never be worthy of any woman.
Because no matter what he did or how often he put on a happy face going about
his regular routine, deep down he knew there was no escaping who he really was.
was a killer.
stone-cold, ruthless murderer.
of Anna Sue Fisher?
there really was no doubt about it.
scrolled through their case list on her tablet as she awaited her supervisor to
show. There wasn’t enough coffee on the planet for these early Monday meetings,
and not because they were usually first thing in the morning. Rick McMillan,
their shrewd team leader, usually spent a good portion going over policies and
government red tape with the agents on the team. Time Anna would rather spend
chasing leads and arresting the bad guys. Sitting still for a couple of hours
in the morning when her defenses weren’t up yet gave her too much of an
opportunity to get lost in her thoughts, and that was something she couldn’t
handle. Ever since the Oberman case six months ago, she’d kept her nose in a
file and her soles pounding the pavement as if the devil himself was on her
heels. Focusing on other people breaking the law distracted her from her own
Well, one bad decision.
lean, muscled, spiky-blond-hair bad decision.
if that man wasn’t sex personified, and he sure as hell knew it. He was a
walking god, the type of man who’d make the surliest of women giggle in delight
when he aimed that thousand-watt smile of his at them. He had his pick of any
number of women, and Anna was sure none he’d set his sights on had been able to
resist him. Blade flirting was a charmer, but Blade on a mission to have a
woman moaning beneath him was a powerhouse of lethal lust. Anna was certain the
man never failed to get what he wanted.
should know. He’d conquered her.
giggled at his harmless flirting when they’d worked on that case together in
Dallas. He’d quickly become the star of her masturbatory fantasies—a fact she’d
felt slightly guilty about. She’d never thought of any colleague that way, and
she’d never ever dated anybody she
worked with. No way was she going to shit where she ate. But, technically,
Blade wasn’t an FBI agent, so she’d allowed herself those few images of him in
the darkest of nights. A little something to take the edge off of working so
close with him, she’d told herself. But as the time passed, his easygoing
nudges and winks and smiles turned into something heated and forbidden. He’d
made her a million promises in those half-mast gazes, making her forget all the
reasons why sleeping with him would be a bad idea.
It had been
a terrible idea.
delivered on every one of those sinful promises.
back to that night, she still couldn’t remember when they’d gone past the point
of no return. From suggestion to full-on seduction. Before she knew it, she’d
been on her knees before him, worshiping his cock and getting drunk on his very
right there threw her. She’d spent the days and weeks following berating
herself for giving in to the temptation that was Blade. Yes, the guy was hot,
but when it came down to it, Anna had never had a problem wrangling her libido.
She was pretty good at not only dishing out the rejections, but downright
ignoring any man who came onto her.
she drew the attention of the opposite sex often. Oh, no. She was pretty homely
compared to most women. And when it came to her female colleagues in this room,
Shelby Landry and Viola Lane, there was zero comparison. Those girls could
double as models. Hell, they were both currently working undercover at a
massage clinic, rubbing backs and arresting asses.
accepted a long time ago she was average in the looks department. She’d grown
up in the Midwest where beans and cornbread were staples and perfecting fried
chicken was a rite-of-passage. She was fit, of course, because she had to be
able to chase down suspects. Although, she’d taken a hiatus from jogging after breaking
her ankle six months ago. It had been slow going getting back into her regular
routine. No matter how much she exercised, her thighs never sported a gap, and
no matter how much she’d prayed growing up, her boobs never advanced to a C
cup. She didn’t wear makeup expertly like Viola and didn’t have that natural
beauty thing going on like Shelby. She was just plain ol’ Anna Sue Fisher from
a corn farm in Kansas.
know if Blade had seen her as just another conquest or if he’d been truly attracted
to her. Even if his plans were of the hit-it-and-quit-it variety, he was a
complete gentleman. Outside of the bedroom, he wasn’t a kiss-and-tell man, and
for that she was so, so grateful.
she face her boss and teammates if they knew what happened back in Dallas? She
was too smart to claim his attentiveness threw her off her game, yet she didn’t
understand logically how he’d been able to seduce her. Was it still called
seduction if the woman practically begged for it? Not only had she been unable
to muster the strength to push him away, she distinctly remembered grabbing his
shirt and pulling him even closer to her the night he’d rocked her world.
Jesus, it was as if she couldn’t drop to her knees fast enough.
He’d been sooo—
doing some online shopping?” Shelby asked, yanking Anna from her thoughts of
Blade and that naughty night.
a few times before looking over to the youngest agent in their group. Darrell,
one of the men on the team, had taken Shelby under his wing and shown her the
ropes. She’d caught on quickly and would be ready to work a case solo in no
time. “No. Researching leads on our pending cases.” Technically not accurate,
but that was what she’d had open on her tablet. No need to tell her teammate
how distracting one night with one man was six months ago.
you’re such a workhorse,” Viola said from across the table.
learn a thing or two from her,” Carson said.
Tobin and Carson Childers were the two men on the small special team Rick put
together a couple of years ago. They usually focused on financial crimes. They
each had their specialties. Anna was a forensic accountant, and since “crime
pays” was the outlaws’ motto, she had her hand in just about every case that
came their way. She was good at chasing the money.
you,” Viola said with a toss of her blonde hair.
husband wouldn’t be too happy if you did that.” Carson winked at her.
opened her mouth, but snapped it shut when the door opened.
Darrell said as he walked in and took his seat. He looked as if he just rolled
out of bed.
chuckled. “Yeah. Long night going over some international docs. I’m going to
need your linguistic expertise, I think.”
problem. We can meet up afterward.”
in then and sat at the head of the table. “Good morning, everyone. We’ve got a
lot to discuss, so let’s skip over the morning pleasantries and start with last
listened dutifully as her boss discussed events of meetings that occurred above
her pay grade. Nothing really new. Budget-cuts-this,
need-to-work-with-other-agencies-that. Crisis averted over here. Problems with
intel other there. Blah, blah, blah. She didn’t understand why he felt the need
to share every detail about politics when nothing was really different, and
most everything had come across in various emails anyway. After what felt like
an eternity, he took a deep breath.
questions before we move on?” he finally asked.
around the room and noticed the same bored expressions on her teammates’ faces.
At least she wasn’t the only one who didn’t care about that part of the
assignments. Viola, Shelby, how’s the massage therapy case coming?”
“ICE has a
lead on a trafficker,” Shelby said. Anna couldn’t stop the small smile that
formed at the newbie’s drive. “Should make an arrest in a day or two.”
hands have never been this soft,” Viola said.
Rick gave a
quick shake of his head and said, “Always looking at the bright side.”
has point on the case. We’ll continue assisting if their suspect fizzles out,
but I’m putting you two on other assignments as of today. Lane, you’re working
with Childers on the Princesses Robbers case.”
privileged socialites suspected of a series of bank heists. Got it,” Carson
said, then added, “Don’t know why they didn’t just start a YouTube channel.”
dead. It’s all Insta now,” Shelby said.
know for sure it’s the Wellingtons,” Viola said glancing between them.
Rick added, effectively stopping any more discussion on that. “Landry, I’m
putting you on assignment with Fisher,” he said, first looking at Shelby before
focusing on Anna Sue. “I need you on location for this.”
up a silent thank you, eager for the
in-depth distraction. She couldn’t even sit in a meeting room for five minutes
before her brain drifted against her mental Blade boundaries. Getting away,
throwing herself into work, was just what she needed. Distance and the right
kind of distraction.
are flying into Little Rock this afternoon.”
What the—Oh no. No, no, no.
The look on
her face must have been telling because Rick’s gaze narrowed. “You have a
problem with Arkansas?”
not the state, just one particular inhabitant. The further she could stay away
from Blade, the better. And now her boss wanted her to work a case near him?
That was too much for her body to handle. She liked being a state away from
Blade and his hold on her. But it wasn’t as if she could tell Rick any of this
or even be vague about not liking Arkansas. This was her job. She swallowed,
pushing down her panic along with the sudden lump in her throat. This would be
fine. Blade didn’t live in the city. Hell, he didn’t even live in the same
county. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Who said she would even have to cross the
river? It could be her new geographical boundary. “No, sir,” she answered
automatically, hoping the moment between his question and her answer hadn’t
dragged by as it had felt to her.
looked down and opened a file. “I need you to meet up with the Bang Shift
Fuuuuuuuck. Her eyes closed, her silent thanks from before
morphing into a string of colorful curse words. This could not be happening!
She wasn’t just going to be in the same state, or even the same town. Anna was
going to have to work with Blade.
fucking shit, shitty shit!
Rick said tersely.
quickly, she said, “Sorry, sir.”
I boinked Blade while on assignment, and ran
from him like an awkward chicken. Please, don’t make me face him. She didn’t think that response
would fly, so she improvised. “Arkansas is miserable in the summer,” she said,
hoping to make light of it. No matter what, she would try to maintain her
professionalism while in front of her superior. She’d embrace her bad-assery
FBI agent persona right now. Later, she could be all girly about this and drown
her sorrows the best way she knew how. With her trusty friends Ben and Jerry.
a half smile. “It does get humid there.” Then his face grew serious. “You could
be there a while, so pack accordingly.”
we sent them assignments, not agents,” Darrell said, and she was relieved to
have the group’s attention focused on him now. “Well, except for Gauge.”
turned to Darrell, but at the mention of Gauge, she couldn’t help notice Viola
stiffen. Word around the office was she and Gauge had a thing when they were at
Quantico, but nothing had been confirmed by either. Anna figured it was why the
lady across from her had never been the one to go to Arkansas when dealing with
the Bang Shift…even if Viola was now happily married to another man.
one of them. His allegiance is with those men.”
an agent,” Viola quickly said before adding, “And those men are still government contractors.”
hired guns. Never forget they’d kill for the highest bidder,” Rick said.
think that’s a fair assessment, sir,” Anna said, taken aback by her boss’s
words. “I’ve been down there several times and never got that vibe from them.
Gruff? Sure. And tough as nails, but not gun-toting extremists.”
mercenaries,” Darrell said with exasperation. “Colonel brought those guys
together, and he was an evil bastard. They sure as hell ain’t a bunch of Boy
because Gauge’s life is the only one not a mystery to us, doesn’t mean he can’t
be influenced by his family.”
brother’s in the military,” Shelby said, frowning. “So is mine. We’ve both
talked about their tours. Most people consider that a noble profession.”
lot you don’t know,” Rick said. “And not all family is blood.”
frowned, not liking how this conversation was going. Yes, Colonel had been the
leader of the crew in Mayflower, Arkansas, until they’d learned he was in
cahoots with the mob, a life-threatening reality for everyone, especially Brody
and Xan. But the feds trusted them enough to work with them. They went to those
guys for assignments. Maybe Rick’s attitude now was politically charged, like
the budget cuts he’d discussed earlier. It wasn’t as if the work the Bang Shift
crew did for the government was out of the goodness of their hearts. Maybe she
should’ve paid more attention to that part of the meeting.
the reason for his personal feelings on the working relationship, it didn’t
change the fact that there was some new threat that necessitated her going back
to the state she never wanted to set foot in again. Several possible scenarios
flitted through her mind. Most obvious being that there could be a new threat
of Brody’s old mafia connections showing up, guns blazing. But if it involved
Brody—or Xan through Marco’s family—Jack Parsons’s RICO team would handle the
case. Anna Sue had been on assignment in Arkansas when Jack needed extra eyes
on Brody and his buddies because she’d already been familiar with the inner
workings of the crime family’s financial and illegal activity. But Jack’s team
spearheaded that. Unless the Bang Shift needed one of them to assist, as was
the case with Hunter’s sister, or other cases involving national security took
precedence, her team focused on the financial aspects of various crimes.
why the SEC wants us to have a closer look.”
Carson asked, leaning back.
look at what?” Anna asked at the same time, gaze narrowing at Rick. She
couldn’t explain why the hairs on the back of her neck suddenly stood. If the
SEC was involved then it made sense why her team was being pulled in. But that
just raised a bunch more questions as to how the Bang Shift came into play in
all of this.
“Not sure I
like your attitude, Fisher.”
She took a
silent breath. “Those guys aren’t white-collar. I’m trying to understand what
the SEC wants with them.”
on the other members of the team and answered, “They’re investigating an
investment firm and want us to look into a new executive. Mason Showalter. I’m
pulling intel on him, but as of right now, this isn’t one of our typical
forensic accounting cases.” His gaze slid back to Anna. “Mr. Showalter has a
connection to one of the Bang Shift crew members.”
Who? Though the cold dread flowing through her
answered that silent question.
Young, a.k.a. Blade, receives a call from him on the twenty-fifth of every
month. I want to know why. We don’t know enough about that group of guys in
Mayflower. I’m meeting with Jack Parsons…again…to talk about them. Frankly, I
feel we need to determine if continued working relations with the Bang Shift
and any FBI team is the way to go.”
federal government has been relying on them for years to handle contracts,”
though we’ve learned Colonel made no bones about sealing records and
obliterating their pasts and most family connections, we still continue to work
with them. Put the lives of citizens in their hands. Two of those men had mafia
connections to two different crime families. Now this? We should be able to
identify the connection of Mason Showalter and Braxton Young with a few clicks
on a keyboard. We can’t. Colonel had been methodical, so we really have no idea
who these men are. Who the hell knows what else we’ll find. This is exactly why
anytime someone tried hiring an external group to handle government business, I
have always been against it.”
heart thudded in her chest, her emotions pinging all over as a memory came
drifting back. One particularly long, boring night of surveillance, Blade had
told her something about himself, and it had totally caught her off guard.
arrested once,” she heard herself say.
“I, um, I
don’t know. He told me when we were watching Heather Anderson. Didn’t volunteer
any details, though.” She’d later tried to look up specifics of his crime, but
found nothing. She’d figured it was something minor. Maybe public intox with
short probation and a guaranteed clean record at the end if he stayed out of
trouble. Something small that wouldn’t leave a record. She’d dismissed the
small confession almost as quickly as he’d made it. But maybe it was something
bigger than the average misdemeanor. Colonel had definitely been meticulous
enough to want everything on his men locked tight or completely erased from the
system. Not that it would’ve been necessary if they were just mercenaries. That
particular job didn’t require a clean record to take hits. But to work with the
federal government? Now, that was a different story.
The fact he felt free enough to confide in you makes you the perfect choice to
go. Love it when my instincts are right.”
Oh, the bad
feeling she had grew stronger.
the cover?” Darrell asked. “Because we can’t tell the men she’s there to pry
into Blade’s life.”
was gonna be sick. Her emotions were all over. On the one hand, they trusted
those men and now she was being tasked with going behind their backs…one back
in particular. On the other hand, she really had no idea what Blade had done in
his past. Or what was he doing now. When it all came down to it, she didn’t
really know him at all. Not that that
changed how she felt about him. Or the fact that those guys had worked with the
government for years, taking many of the shit jobs they either didn’t want to
do or couldn’t because of red tape. They’d skirted the law for the sake of
justice, and now they could be punished for the very thing the government paid
them to do.
disaster written all over it.
hunting lodge in Louisiana he goes to every year. Two years ago, he bought some
shares in the business. A developer’s buying surrounding land. We’re going in
under the guise of investigating the developer.”
know we primarily focus on the money, but if we tell them we’re working with
the SEC, they’d have questions as to why that branch is involved,” Viola said.
Rick said. “Instead of telling them we’ve partnered with the SEC, we’ll say
we’re working with the IRS. That agency gets everyone’s attention. Since Blade
is linked to the business, it should make him want to help and be an easy in with him.” Rick looked at Anna.
“Though it seems you already have one.”
her mouth shut and hoped her face didn’t give anything away.
just expect the Bang Shift to help investigate this bogus developer in hopes of
finding the connection of Mason Showalter to Blade Young without offering a
contract for their services?” Carson laughed without humor. “Guns for hire don’t work for free.”
it’s personal,” Anna added, remembering the call about Flint Willis and the
massive drug bust.
wouldn’t have been personal if Mr. Knight had reported Mr. Willis as soon as he
was propositioned.” Even though Anna knew Bear’s last night, it was weird
hearing him called anything other than his nickname. “They screwed the pooch on
that, too. We still haven’t been able to locate Flint Willis.”
some card activity out west,” Carson said. “We’ll find him.”
Anyway, we’ll give the Bang Shift the you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours
spiel.” Rick shrugged. “There are budget cuts, and they need us if they want to
keep getting money.”
we don’t find reason to and stop contracting with them anyway,” Viola said.
Anna could hear the discomfort in her voice and was glad she wasn’t the only
one who seemed to have a problem with this assignment. And she wasn’t even
thinking of the big, fat personal reason.
ever guaranteed,” Rick said.
gets close to Blade for the SEC’s inquiry into Showalter. And Shelby’s role?”
to Shelby. “I want you at the shop, watching, seeing if you can learn anything
else about the other men. To them, you’re a peace offering sent to help with legal contracts and work at the shop
since they’ll be a man short. You remember basic auto repair?”
smiled. “Yes, sir. Grew up running around my daddy’s garage in Nebraska. When
other little girls were playing with Barbie, I was learning how to rebuild a
chuckled. “Can’t see you as a grease monkey.”
winked. “I’m really good at lubing a chassis.”
growled. “Not funny.”
twitched, but that was the only sign of humor he showed. “Good. Fit in with the
guys, and see what you can learn.” He’s gaze cut to Anna. “We need to learn
everything we can about these men. Starting with Young. No matter what, you
stick to him like glue. Find out about this Showalter man and report back. But,
Fisher, solving that is just scratching the surface. By the end of this
mission, I want you to know more about Braxton Young than he knows himself.
confidence she didn’t feel, Anna gave him a quick nod. “Understood.”
she get close to him without letting her defenses down? It would be a miracle
if she could do her job without getting too emotionally close to Blade. She
avoided him after their night together for a reason, but that didn’t mean she
stopped thinking about him, hoping at her weaker moments that maybe he could be
different, that there could be more with him.
that mattered now. None of it.
assignment would forever shatter even the tiniest of dreams where she and Blade
had a future. Because even if they considered picking up where they’d left off
after that night of passion, she’d never be able to tell him why she was really coming back six months later.
And if he
ever learned the truth, Blade would never forgive her.