Author: Sandra Brown
Publisher by: Grand Central Publishing
Published on: August 16, 2016
Genres: Romance, Suspense
When Shaw Kinnard encounters the incongruously elegant Jordie Bennet in a seen-better-days bayou bar, it’s not love at first sight. He’s there to kill her. Instead, he abducts her, eager to get hold of the $30 Million her brother has pocketed from his badly bent boss. Now they are on the run from said boss—and the FBI.
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Three days earlier, Shaw had been sunning himself beside a sapphire-blue swimming pool, watching two topless girls cavort in the shallow end, catching a buzz from a tall, pastel drink from which a hibiscus blossom sprouted, enjoying the hedonistic lifestyle that could be bought with new money in Old Mexico.
He was a guest in a villa that sat on a cliff overlooking the Gulf. The white stucco structure sprawled atop a jungle-draped hillside that tumbled down onto the sandy shore. The palatial property belonged to the man Shaw would execute later that night.
However, that afternoon as he’d watched the girls play and sipped the tropical cocktail, he didn’t know that yet.
After the swimming party, guests had been given time to retreat to their rooms and change into their casual chic before reconvening for an extended cocktail hour, followed by a four-course dinner served by a deferential, all-male staff who wore white cotton gloves on their hands and carried black pistols belted around their crisply starched uniforms. For dessert each guest was offered his choice of sweet confection, after-dinner cordial, controlled substance, and senorita.
While making his selections, Shaw’s cell phone vibrated. He excused himself to take the call and left the terrace for one of the open-air rooms that accessed it. The study was opulently furnished. Too opulently. It attested to the owner’s youthful flamboyance and poor judgment.
Shaw answered his phone with a laconic “Yeah?”
A gravelly voice said, “You know who this is?”
Shaw had spent months trying to win enough trust to be granted an interview with the hit man. He finally agreed to a meeting with Shaw, during which both were watchful and wary . . . of their surroundings, surely, but mostly of each other. In carefully coded language, Shaw had provided Mickey with his résumé and the extent of his experience in their unique field of endeavor.
Something, maybe his subtlety and disinclination to boast, had convinced Mickey that he was competent. At the conclusion of their coffee date, Mickey said he would been in touch should the need for Shaw’s services ever arise. That had been six months ago. Shaw had almost given up hope of hearing from him.
“You still want a job?”
Shaw glanced out onto the terrace where the dessert course had deteriorated into a full-fledged orgy. “One-man show?”
“You partner with me.”
“Must be a special gig.”
“You want it or not?”
“What’s the split?”
You couldn’t get more fair than that. “When do you need me?”
That had been Tuesday evening, leaving Shaw very little time to wrap up his job there and get to New Orleans by the appointed time.
He’d had a hundred more questions for Mickey Bolden, but, the opportunity being too good to pass up, and figuring he would get the details of the contract soon enough, he’d put his curiosity on hold and told the man that he could count on him.
It had required some deft maneuvering and tortuous travel, but he’d finished his business in Mexico that night and managed to reach Louisiana with time to spare. He and Mickey had rendezvoused yesterday and then had driven together to the township of Tobias this morning.
They’d spent the day reconnoitering and developing a strategy for how best to go about killing Jordan Elaine Bennett, owner of Extravaganza, a much-sought-after event planning business in New Orleans. She was sister to and only living relative of Joshua Raymond Bennett, a much-sought-after crook.
He and Mickey had followed Jordie Bennett around town as she ran mundane errands. At a little after six p.m. this evening she’d returned home. They’d waited three hours, but she didn’t reappear. Believing their target had settled in to spend a quiet Friday night at home, he and Mickey had gone to a local diner for dinner. Over tough steaks and greasy fries, Mickey outlined a plan of attack.
Shaw had expressed surprise when Mickey had identified their target the day before. Now he questioned the expediency of the hit. “Why tomorrow?”
“Seems rushed. I figured we’d watch her for a few more days, get a better feel for her routine, then pick the best place and time.”
“Panella picked our time,” Mickey said as he sawed into his T-bone. “And the customer is always right. He wants it done tomorrow, we do it tomorrow.”
“He’s under a deadline?”
Following dinner, they’d decided to wash down the bad food with a drink before making the hour drive back to New Orleans. This bar had been recommended by the diner’s busboy, whose standards obviously weren’t very high.
However, it had suited their purposes, because in no-name places like this everyone kept his head down.
Jordie Bennett sure as hell did. As Shaw continued walking along the bar toward her, she was concentrating hard on her glass of wine as though waiting for it to ferment some more. When he reached the end of the bar, he didn’t break stride, but walking right past her, he caught a whiff of expensive perfume. A spicy scent. Something exotic and elusive that would make a man want to conduct a sniffing search for its source along all sixty-six inches of her.
He didn’t stop till he reached the listing Wurlitzer against the wall. Standing in the multicolored glow of its bubbling tubes, he propped his forearm on the arced top. The stance put his body at a slight angle so that while he flipped through the song selection cards pretending interest, he could use his peripheral vision to keep an eye on Jordie.
She took a sip of wine with lips straight out of a dirty dream, then lowered the glass to the bar and left her hand resting there. Long slender fingers. No rings. Nail polish so pale Shaw wondered why she’d bothered to spend an hour in the salon that afternoon. Her wristwatch was a basic tank style with a no-nonsense brown alligator strap, more practical than pretty, but you could probably buy a good used car with what she’d paid for it.
A satin bra strap showed in the sleeveless armhole of her simple white top, and, with the slightest motion of her head, it was brushed by long strands of mahogany-colored hair that looked even more satiny. Her sandals were high-heeled and her jeans tight. Perched on the bar stool, her ass looked real sweet.
He wasn’t the only man in the place to have noticed. A guy, younger than her by at least a decade, younger than Shaw by twice that, was being egged on by his pool-playing buddies. Fueled by whiskey and goaded by guffaws, he sauntered over to the empty stool beside hers.
Her small red handbag, no larger than a letter envelope, was lying on the bar, a silver chain snaking from it. She scooted it closer to her, granting the yokel permission to claim the stool.
Maybe Mickey was right, and she was cruising. But she hadn’t looked at the would-be Romeo with either recognition or encouragement, and Shaw wouldn’t place odds on him succeeding at anything except to annoy her.
Shaw looked toward Mickey to see if he’d observed that she now had company. He had. His porcine face had turned red and sweaty. He was talking on his cell phone. Shaw didn’t have to wonder who was on the other end of that call. No doubt Mickey was consulting with their retainer about how they should proceed now that Ms. Bennett’s surprise appearance had thrown a wrench into the plan.
Shaw returned his attention to the progression of the romance. As expected, Jordie Bennett was replying to the guy’s slurred come-ons with increasing impatience. He was young and drunk and out to prove his appeal to the fairer sex, but couldn’t he see that he was way out of his league? Not that Shaw faulted the fool for taking a stab at it. Shag her, have bragging rights for life.
Coming from his blind side, a hand landed heavily on Shaw’s shoulder. Automatically he reached toward his pistol.
“Relax,” Mickey growled, “it’s me.” He pointed to the song list. “They got any Merle Haggard?”
Shaw flipped back through a few of the song menu cards. “Who were you talking to on the phone?”
“Who you think?”
“What did he say?”
“Dropped a load of F bombs, then said this dive was getting crowded and we should split. Like now.” He subtly tilted his head toward the scene being acted out behind him. The drunk was leaning toward Jordie Bennett at such a steep angle, he was barely maintaining his balance on the bar stool. “What’re they doing now? What about him? You see anything that should have us worried?”
Shaw watched the couple for several moments longer, then shook his head. “He only wants in her pants.”
“Okay. Let’s go.” Mickey turned away from the jukebox and led the way to the exit.
Shaw fell into step behind him. He resisted the temptation to take one last look at Jordie Bennett.
As soon as he and Mickey cleared the door, he sucked in a deep breath to try and ease the tension between his shoulder blades and to clear his head of bar fug.
But the outside air was hot and humid, only a little fresher than that inside the bar. His shoulders remained tense as he followed Mickey to their car. They’d left it at the far edge of the parking lot, which was only a fan-shaped patch of crushed oyster shells in front of the tavern.
Mickey wedged himself into the passenger seat. As subordinate partner on this job, it fell to Shaw to drive. Which was okay by him. He hated riding shotgun. If and when a situation went tits-up, he liked having control of the vehicle.
He put the key in the ignition, but Mickey said, “Hold on. We’re not going anywhere yet.”
Shaw’s heart bumped. “Why not?”
“We’re doing it here.”
Shaw just looked at him, then, “You joking?”
“No. Panella said there’s no time like the present.”
“Hell, there isn’t,” Shaw hissed, gesturing back toward the bar. “We were seen in there.”
“Which is another reason why Panella said to go ahead.”
“That doesn’t makes sense.”
“Makes perfect sense.”
“Only if you want to get caught. Speaking for myself, I don’t.”
“So then don’t get caught.” Mickey grunted with the effort of extracting his pistol from the holster lodged between the folds of his belly. “Panella advises against it, too.”
“Easy for him to say. It’s not his ass that’s exposed, is it?”
Mickey gave him a sidelong glance. “First time out and you’re going soft on me.”
“Not soft, old man. Sensible. I don’t see why the fucking hurry.”
“I explained that.”
“Yeah, but tomorrow would be soon enough.”
“Not anymore. Panella has changed his mind. Small town like this, where everybody knows everybody? Word gets around quick that there’s two ‘strangers’ in town.”
“Okay. So we wait to do it till she goes back to New Orleans.”
“That could be days. She doesn’t go into the city on a regular basis. Works out of her house here a lot. Anyhow, it’s not our decision to make. Panella says get her done, especially now that we happened to be caught under the same roof as the target.”
Shaw understood the reasoning, but he still didn’t like it. Not at all.
Mickey kept talking. “Like you, Panella is scared that maybe her showing up here tonight isn’t a coincidence.”
“That’s what I said, but I was only mouthing off. Her coming here has gotta be a fluke. There’s no way she could know about us.”
“Well, whatever, Panella said to do it now, so . . . ” For punctuation, Mickey used the slide of his 9mm to chamber a bullet.
Shaw realized two things: His vote didn’t count, and further argument was pointless. “Shit.” He pulled his pistol from its holster and glanced back toward the door with the crackling neon sign above it. “So how do you want to do it?”
“We wait here till she comes out. If the redneck asshole leaves with her, you pop him. I’ll take care of her.”
“If she comes out alone?”
“I’ll do the honors,” Mickey said as he worked his hands into latex gloves. He passed a pair to Shaw. “You take her purse. Panella says to make it look like a robbery gone bad. A random crime.”
“With no connection to either him or her brother.”
“With no connection to anything.”
Shaw scoffed. “Like anybody will believe that.”
Mickey chuckled. “Not your problem who believes what. You’ll be far and away, enjoying your half of two hundred grand.”
“That’ll buy a nice boat.”
“That’ll buy nice pussy.”
“Your mind’s in the gutter, Mickey.”
He chuckled again. “Where it feels right at home.”
Noticing motion from the corner of his eye, Shaw took another look through the rear window. “Here she comes.”
“By herself ?”
Shaw waited to answer until the door had closed behind Jordie Bennett and no one followed her out. “Yep.”
Since the building didn’t have any exterior lighting, the parking lot was almost in complete darkness. A pale, slender moon was obscured by the moss-bearded branches of an oak that extended across three-quarters of the lot. There were no approaching headlights from either direction of the narrow state road.
Seizing the opportunity, Mickey opened his car door and got out, moving with more alacrity than Shaw would have thought him capable of. The fat man was jazzed. Mickey Bolden relished his line of work.
But so did Shaw. The tequila shots hadn’t given him near the rush that straight-up adrenaline did now.
Being as light-footed as possible, they followed Jordie Bennett as she wended her way through the parking lot. It was jammed with dented pickup trucks and salt-water-corroded heaps. Her recent model sedan was a shiny, sleek standout. She used a key fob to unlock the driver’s door.
Shaw captured another drift of that seductive fragrance as she suddenly did an about-face.
Apparently his and Mickey’s footfalls on the crushed shells hadn’t been as light as they’d thought. Or maybe animal instinct had alerted her to mortal danger. In any case, when she saw them rushing toward her, her lips parted on a quick inhale, her eyes went wide with alarm.
As Mickey swiftly closed the distance between them, his right hand snapped up from his side with precision and deadly purpose.
The sound suppressor on the pistol muffled the shot, but in the surrounding stillness, the spitting noise seemed as loud to Shaw’s ears as a fire alarm.
Mickey dropped like a sack of cement, his ravaged head hemorrhaging a red tide over the crushed shells.
Jordie Bennett watched in horror as a stream of blood funneled toward her sandals. Then she looked up at Shaw, who still held his pistol shoulder high and extended toward her. He said, “My half just doubled.”
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