Lucy Scott tossed back the rest of her scotch and soda. She scowled at the businessman and he retreated across the room. Lucy was sitting at a swanky hotel bar, waiting for her mark.
So far, he hadn’t shown. Why can’t fugitives be timely? Lucy was a bounty hunter and her job could be boring. She wasted a lot of time waiting for a target to show up.
I’m dying for a cigarette.
Unfortunately, there was no smoking in the hotel, and she was itching for a nicotine fix. She always felt antsy before an engagement and cigarettes had a calming effect on her jangled nerves. They occupied her hands, relaxed her, and gave Lucy something else to focus on.
Although, these days she was almost always on edge, glancing over her shoulder, ready for anything. In her experience, the proverbial other shoe hovered, ready to drop at the worst possible moment.
Lucy checked her appearance in the mirror behind the bar. Her black hair was pulled back in a tight bun, and she’d applied minimal makeup. Lucy had lined her green eyes with kohl and glossed her full lips.
At one time, she’d had strawberry-blonde locks, but she had to keep her identity a secret, and it was an easy way to disguise herself.
Lucy glanced down at her own outfit with a frown. She’d dressed somewhat conservatively, given the role she was playing. Lucy was dressed in a black pinstriped skirt suit. Although, she wore black stiletto heels and stockings. The look was provocative, without being overt. High-class escorts didn’t dress like common streetwalkers, and Lucy was pretending to be one in order to get her man.
And it’s not like the role is much of a stretch for you.
Lucy pushed the wayward thought firmly away. She couldn’t afford to get distracted.
Literally. The fugitive she was tracking down was worth $5,000. It would be easy money, if he didn’t put up a fight.
Her phone rang, and Lucy checked the number. She recognized it immediately.
“How’s the stakeout going?” Christy Baker asked.
Lucy sighed. “So far it’s a bust.”
“No big. How do you feel about ordering pizza and watching some Netflix when I get back to your place?”
For the past few weeks, Lucy had been staying on Christy’s couch. They’d served together in Iraq. Back in the day, they’d been fresh out of basic training, and absolutely clueless. They’d been the only two female Marines in their unit, so they’d gotten very close. And it was a miracle they hadn’t died on their first tour of duty.
Now, Christy worked as a security guard at a jewelry store, while Lucy had taken a more lucrative but dangerous job.
“Consider it a date. Speaking of, have you heard from Mr. Kinky?”
“His name is Tom.” Lucy could almost hear Christy rolling her eyes.
“Peeping Tom?” Lucy teased.
“I thought so.”
Christy had a wild sex life. She had a thing meeting guys online for casual, kinky encounters. In fact, Lucy had gone with her a couple of times to a club called Edge. She’d been there to ensure her friend’s safety though, not to participate.
Lucy had even gotten a gig out of the deal. The club’s enigmatic owner had hired her on the spot and she’d discreetly taken care of a problem for him.
“I know you don’t approve.”
“I’m worried about you. Trust me, I’m no position to pass judgment on anybody. After all, I’m dressed as a prostitute.” Lucy whispered the last bit into the phone.
Christy snickered. “Fishnets…? I might have to borrow those.”
“No. Think escort, not streetwalker. Now, let’s talk about Tom.”
“I know you’re concerned, but I’ve got everything under control.”
“Glad to hear it.” Lucy took another sweep of the bar, and her prey was nowhere in sight. “Ugh. Come on, buddy, I don’t have all night.”
Besides, the wolves were beginning to circle. It was nearing midnight and several men were eyeing her.
“Your tango’s still not there?” Tango was military slang for a target.
“Yeah, I think he might be a no-show.” Lucy groaned. “I wasted the better part of two hours.”
This was quickly shaping up to be a craptastic day, which was really saying something, given her life of work.
“Since I’ve got a free moment, tell me what’s going on with Tom.”
Lucy hadn’t met the man yet, and she wanted to take his measure, assess if he was any threat to Christy. Although, Lucy’s decision-making skills might be skewed. At one time, she’d been forced into sexual slavery and she couldn’t stand the thought of someone victimizing Christy.
She heaved a sigh. “Fine, I’m gonna give you some details, but don’t freak out, alright?”
“I won’t. Hit me.”
“There’s been a whole lot of back and forth. We’ve scheduled and then rescheduled several meetings.”
“You don’t think he’s serious?” The tension in Lucy’s shoulders eased.
“Maybe. We met for coffee twice, and I offered to play with him in a safe space like Edge, but he declined.”
“Didn’t you two meet there to begin with…?”
“Yeah, but Tom said he wanted something more intimate. Private.”
Lucy frowned. It sounded like a great big red flag to her.
“Yeah, that’s a big ‘no.’ If you fool around with him, go to Edge, where you are surrounded by other people.” The club owner, Finnegan, ensured everyone’s safety.
“Like I said, we already checked each other out in public place. He didn’t give me the serial killer vibe or anything.”
In Lucy’s experience, murderers were skilled chameleons who blended in with the rest of the population. She’d hunted the worst of the worst and they could fool anyone, at least for a little while.
“What does this Tom look like? And what’s his last name?” Maybe she should check this guy out and see if he had any skeletons rattling around in his closet.
“You don’t need to involve yourself.”
“A little background check never hurt anyone.”
“Leave it alone, Lucky.”
She smiled at the nickname. Lucy had gotten the moniker their first week in the sandbox, and it had stuck. One night, while they were traveling in a convoy, a prickle of awareness slid up her spine. Something had told her the rusted-out utility building on the side of the road ahead of them had been rigged to blow.
She’d been right.
A few seconds later it exploded. The damn thing had been stuffed full of shrapnel, too. Fortunately, they’d given the structure wide berth. Lucy had saved her teammates from injuries, so they considered her a good luck charm.
Although, Lucy should’ve changed the moniker to “Unlucky,” given her current circumstances.
“Fine. I’ll give him a pass. For now.” Just then, Lucychecked the doorway and her target strolled in the room. He was a middle-aged man with brown eyes and a receding hairline.
His appearance had changed in the past three years. Then again, mug shots were grainy and poor-quality photos. But he was definitely her guy. She’d done extensive research on him, and he always stayed at this hotel on business and usually bought a little “pleasurable company” for the evening.
Hot damn. It’s showtime.
“I hate to cut this short, but I’ve gotta go.”
“No problem. I’m gonna give Tom another call. Catch you later. And hey, I want mushroom and pepperoni.”
“Got it. I’ll be back at your place in two hours with dinner. Tops.” Lucy hung up and slipped the phone back into her purse.
Michael Hutton, her tango, strolled over and sat beside Lucy. She hid a smile behind the rim of her almost-empty glass.
“Hi there.” He held out his hand, and Lucy shook it. “Can I buy you a drink?”
She gave him her best sultry smile. “I thought you’d never ask.”
“Damn, you are incredible.”
Twenty minutes later, Lucy was in the elevator, with Mike. Although, he was living under an assumed name, she couldn’t quite remember. Jim? Justin?
“Trust me, you’ve got no idea.”
Mike was slobbering on her neck, clutching her ass, and Lucy concentrated on the check she’d be receiving, as she played along.
It was difficult, letting a man paw her, when she didn’t want his attentions. In her mind’s eye, Lucy was once again on her knees servicing Hussam.
If she thought about it, Lucy would freeze up.
Besides, she didn’t have sex with him, she just needed to get Mike alone. The local police frowned on making a scene. She’d handle this inconspicuously, without a lot of fuss.
In the hallway, he pressed her against a wall, fumbling with her clothes, before opening his hotel room door. They stumbled inside, and he slammed it shut behind them.
Lucy backed Mike toward the bed, taking control of the situation.
“We’re gonna have a good time tonight, baby,” Mike promised. “I’m gonna make you come all night long.”
“One of us is.”
And then Lucy pulled the derringer from her purse. It was a tiny gun, which fit into the palm of her hand. It only held two bullets, but it was more than enough to get the job done.
He gaped at it. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Michael Hutton, there’s a bench warrant for your arrest and I’m taking you in.”
He blinked, all innocent and perplexed. “You must have me confused with someone else. My name’s Justin Michaels.”
That’s it! Justin.
“Nice try. I’m an excellent skip tracer, and I tracked you here from Virginia. You’re wanted for money laundering, tax evasion, and failure to appear in court.” Too bad the cops didn’t know about the hookers.
Mike had left Virginia before his trial and fled to Kentucky. From what Lucy could tell, he’d been living just outside of Lexington for months, under an assumed name. There was a warrant for his arrest, along with a bounty.
He tensed, preparing to barrel past her.
“Not so fast.” Lucy cocked her gun. “If you try to run, I’ll shoot you. I’m a former Marine and I never miss.”
Mike held his hands up. “You’re gonna kill me?”
She lifted a shoulder. “Nah, I’ll tag you in the leg, but it hurts like hell.” Lucy patted her left thigh. She’d taken a bullet to the thigh once and it had been excruciating. “Trust me. And I don’t get the shot just right, you’ll walk with a limp for the rest of your life.”
His eyes widened. For a second, she thought he’d cooperate, but his lips thinned.
Mike grabbed her wrist and tried to wrestle the gun away from her. She kicked him in the shin. Mike grunted, but he didn’t let go. Instead, he slammed her hand against the nightstand—once, twice, three times. Lucy lost her grip on the weapon and it went tumbling to the floor. He quickly kicked it underneath the bed.
Double shit. I jinxed myself. Easy money, my ass.
He was edging to the door. “Just let me go. I don’t want any trouble.”
Lucy wasn’t worried about being unarmed. She was a weapon, but fighting was always her last resort. Lucy would rather do this the easy way, but it was no longer an option.
“Yeah? Well, I do. I’ve been trailing you for weeks, and I’m not gonna kiss the cash goodbye.” Her bank account was getting low.
He squinted. “Hey, I paid you for—”
“Sex? Yup. When I turn you into the cops, feel free to tell them I stiffed you for the sex you paid for.” She snickered. He’d paid her eight hundred bucks upfront. “See what I did there?” I just love puns.
“Come on, let’s end this. There’s no need for anyone to get hurt. You’re going to minimum security.”
His gaze darted to the door, and then back to her. They both had their arms raised, breathing hard.
It was a standoff.
“Come on. I’m gonna be late for a very important meeting. Don’t you want to drop this and come quietly?” If Lucy couldn’t shoot him, she’d have to do this the old-fashioned way.
And then he came for her again.
“Aw, hell.” She ducked under Mike’s arm and poked him in the ribs with her elbow.
She socked him in the stomach and he grabbed her by the arm. Mike slammed Lucy back against the wall. Hard. She slumped to the ground, wincing in pain. He seized her by the ankles, dragging her across the carpet.
Okay, now I’m pissed.
She wrestled one of her feet free and kicked him in the face, causing the prick to lose his grip on her. Then, she jumped to her feet and nailed him in the shin with the knife she’d strapped to her inner thigh.
“Serves you right.” When he bent over, she grabbed him around the neck, and he flailed, but she held on, until Mike fell to his knees, panting.
“Give up, already.”
Finally, he slumped on the floor in defeat.
Lucy banged his head against the ground, just because she felt like. He howled in pain, but she ignored him.
“Please don’t, I can pay you the bounty, plus twenty percent.”
“Nah, it’s about the principle of the thing.” Lucy handcuffed him to the nightstand. “Sit tight and shut up.” Lucy pulled out her phone. “I’m calling this in.”
“You wouldn’t believe the night I’ve had.”
Lucy walked in Christy’s front door and kicked off her high heels. Her feet ached, and she had a couple of bruises blooming on her pale skin.
The cops had taken their sweet time showing up on the scene, so she’d been forced to babysit Mike until they arrived. Lucy had offered to take him in, but their holding cells were full. Evidently, they’d been dealing with a bunch of drunk and disorderly folks at the local football game.
Mike had whined the entire time and kept bribing her into letting him go. Eventually, Lucy had been forced to stuff a washcloth into his mouth to shut him up.
The lights Christy’s apartment had been dimmed. There was an open bottle of champagne on the coffee table, along with two glasses. Soft music played on the stereo. Several lit candles flickered on the mantle.
This was a seduction scene. Had Christy invited Tom over after all?
Inviting a strange man over for kinky sex was a terrible idea, but Lucy didn’t hear any signs of a struggle. Lucy planned on hiding out in the guest room until Christy’s date left, and then she’d pry all the details out of her best friend.
She went to the kitchen and placed the pizza box on the counter. Lucy grabbed a beer from the fridge and twisted the cap off, before taking a couple of swallows. Then she grabbed a slice and had a bite. After Lucy polished it off, she got suspicious.
The apartment was eerily silent. People having sex should be louder than this.
A sixth sense told Lucy something was wrong. She could feel it. Her instincts had been honed in battle and Lucy could sense danger from a mile away.
“Christy?” Lucy grabbed her gun, holding onto it like a lifeline.
A prickle of awareness trickled down her spine and the hair stood up on the back of her neck.
What if Tom had hurt her? No, no, no. This can’t be happening.
Lucy shut off all the lights, plunging the place into blackness. It was a battle strategy, putting an opponent in the dark. Murmuring a prayer, Lucy walked down the hallway. She felt like it took years to close the distance.
A chilled gust from the air conditioner swept along the corridor and curled around Lucy’s body, seeping under her skin, down to her very bones, chilling her to the core.
Shivering, Lucy wrapped her arms around herself. Her teeth clicked together.
When Lucy opened the door, she found Christy lying on her back, arms draped over her chest. The moon spilled light into the bedroom, providing an almost spectral illumination.
The scent of vanilla hung in the air, Christy’s favorite perfume. Her blonde hair had been fanned out over the white pillows and she wore a red corset and panties, which were lewdly pulled to the side, exposing her sex.
“Christy?” Lucy whispered, but her friend didn’t stir.
Lucy willed this to be a sadistic joke, a prank gone awry, but the bluish cast of Christy’s skin said otherwise. The veins stood out prominently along her jaw, and between her brows.
Swallowing a lump in her throat, Lucy approached.
And when she grasped Christy’s shoulder, it was cool to the touch. Lucy placed two fingertips on her throat, feeling for a pulse, but didn’t find one.
Oh, my God.