Shit, he has me.
Another attachment, Uncle Simon's voice tsk tsk'd her.
There was no way she was giving up Keefer's life for a slim getaway chance. Holding the gun out to the side, she slowly turned, eyes burning into Hunt. Beside her, Keefer whined.
“Steady, bud,” she said. “We've surrendered. Agent Hunt is going to put his gun away.”
Hunt stepped forward and plucked her gun from her, shoving it in the back of his jeans. Three of his guys flanked her, giving Keefer a wide birth. Hunt tucked his pistol into its holster. It was some small thing, hidden securely beneath his vest. He motioned to her arms and she lifted them higher and spread her legs.
“I'm clean,” she said, trying to cover the humiliation at being patted down like some street thug. Hunt started by her breasts, hands sliding down her sides and over her hips. He thumbed her front pockets as he moved to her left thigh and down toward her ankle. He switched to her right thigh, and when he reached her calve he stopped and rolled up her jeans. Peeling the knife holster from her leg, he looked up at her.
“And this?” he said.
He hooked the knife to his jeans. “Don't let it happen again.”
He looked at her, Keefer, then at Bo and raised his eyebrow. “A horse? Seriously?”
“Until you stopped me,” she said.
“We don't have time for this. Move.”
She swiped Keefer's leash and Bo's reins and headed back toward the house. Hunt jogged to catch up, then passed her and led her around the front to the black van and a blue SUV. As Hunt consulted with his agents, Abigail realized she still had Bo. What would they do with him? Confiscate him as evidence, or take him back to the farm?
And Keefer. There was no way they were taking Keefer from her. She'd fight tooth and nail to bring him to New York.
The dog plopped down at her feet as she stroked Bo's mane. One of Hunt's men walked up to her and took Bo's reins.
A small lump formed in Abigail's throat as she watched Bo being led away by some stranger. Keefer whined and she bent to him.
“It's okay, buddy.” she whispered, forehead pressed to his, fingers digging into the spot behind his ears. “Everything's going to be okay.”
“Ready?” Hunt's voice interrupted her quiet moment. She straightened and squared her shoulders, suddenly wanting to lash out, hit something or someone. Everything she'd worked hard for was being taken away in the blink of an eye. People -government people- were crawling across her property. Sitting on her front porch with their pressed suits. Flattening her fresh-cut grass with their giant combat boots. Invading her life.
Frustration burned inside her. Her world was crashing down around her, and she couldn't do a damn thing.
She opened her mouth to argue with Hunt, negotiate another way to catch her cousins. A way that didn't include her leaving. She drew a blank. Nothing would be better than her hands-on experience. And Hunt knew that.
She gave up on any argument she might've scrounged up, some niggling little feeling inside her springing to life and trying to convince her that it wouldn't be so bad. That travelling to Manhattan would be an adventure. She'd be allowed to think like a criminal, but have the back-up of the FBI. That any nasty, thieving thought she had would be put to use as evidence against someone else. Plus, traipsing around The Big Apple with a good-looking guy like Hunt could be fun.
She'd almost let excitement work its way into her. Then she remembered that she'd be hunting her old family and any positive feelings scampered away, leaving behind a touch of apprehension and fear.
Rolling her shoulders to relieve some tension, she grabbed Keefer's leash and started for the SUV.
“The dog stays.”
Hunt's words stopped her dead. Pivoting on her heel, she blinked at him. “Then so do I.”
They stared at each other for a minute. She wasn't budging this time. Hoping she got that across to Hunt, she waited for him to break.
Hunt finally scowled. “Get him in, then.”
More relieved than she thought she would be, she opened the back door. Keefer sniffed a few times, then hopped in and settled on the seat.
One of Hunt's men popped open the trunk and tossed her backpack and bag into the back. Abigail climbed in the passenger side. Glancing at the steering wheel, the urge to jack the car and bolt came over her. But this car was too new. Plus, it was Government. Probably covered in trackers and impossible to hot wire.
Her fingers twitched, though, her body itching for one last chance to escape. She took a few big breaths to calm herself. Too late now. Unless something went down on their way to New York and everyone in the assignment ended up dead, there was no way she was getting out of this.
The last few drops of her anger evaporated and she fiddled with the seat belt until Hunt climbed in the car. He started the engine, did a U-turn, and drove down her driveway. Her hand involuntarily went to the window as they passed the mailbox Clint had built her last year, and the white picket fence from the year before.
I'll be back. I promise.
As they drove away from the subdivision, the streetlights disappeared leaving only the moonlight, and the headlights from Hunt's SUV. Keefer laid on the seat behind her, sniffing the interior of the car, occasionally licking something.
After another minute of silence, Hunt spoke.
“Thank you for co-operating,” he said.
Abigail grunted as they passed by fields of winking fireflies. “Like I had a choice.”
“Don't get pissy at me, Sullivan. I wanted to do this nicely, then you had to rebel.”
Slumping in the seat like a pouting child, she put her foot on the dash, watching Hunt cringe as bits of dirt stuck to the leather. “Thought you were going to brief me.”
“The briefing packet's on the plane.”
“You thought we'd drive all the way to New York?”
She shifted her foot, smudging more mud on the dash. She'd hoped they were driving. That meant pit stops to fill up with gas, food stops, plenty of time for her to escape. But on a plane...hell, she'd need a parachute, or some way to take over and fly the stupid thing.
“Get your foot down,” Hunt said. “And stop pouting. This is your own fault.”
“I didn't choose to be part of Uncle Simon's organization.” She stomped her foot down, leaving a smear of mud. “I grew up in it.”
“And when you got to be a teenager,” he said. “You didn't find it strange that you were learning how to extort money or threaten people?”
“No, I didn't.” Her inner defence jumped up. What the hell did this guy know about her? Nothing. He probably grew up in some prissy suburb, went to a fancy-ass private school, and graduated with honors. All peaches and cream for Bradley Hunt. “I'm not an idiot. I knew exactly what we were doing. But it was my life, and he was my family. Uncle Simon took me in and raised me as if I was his own daughter. He was a good man.”
As she finished talking, she realized a lump had formed in her throat and she'd clenched her fists, then panic set in. She'd just told a Fed whom she barely knew and didn't trust, insight to her life, given him nuggets of information he might be able to use against her later. Shit, why'd she do that? Because Hunt insulted Uncle Simon?
Suddenly, an idea came to her, gave her a tiny glimmer of hope.
“What if I told you everything I knew about my cousins, would I still have to get on that plane?”
He scratched his head, messing up his dark hair. “We need you with us. Analyzing these guy's moves, their plans. Intercepting them.”
“Whoa,” she snapped, causing Keefer to give a little woof from the back. “No. No contact.”
“How else are we going to take them down?”
She couldn't talk to them again, after what they put her through, what happened after Uncle Simon died. Maybe she just needed to calm down. When the time came, she could always let Hunt take over, let him talk to them.
“My name is Abigail.”
“That your real name?”
“It is now.” She glared at him, dared him to ask a follow up question.
“I won't be able to kill any of them,” she said, reaching to pet Keefer.
“If the time comes, I'll do it.” He patted her knee, resting his hand on her lower thigh. Warmth snaked up her leg and his touch would have felt good, almost turned her on, but he was ripping her from her home and forcing her to face her cousins.
She looked at his hand, then at him. “If you value any of those fingers, I suggest you remove them from my leg.”
A touch of fear flickered in his eyes and he lifted his hand away. “Don't worry about your cousins.”
“Obviously you don't have a lot of Intel, or you wouldn't be saying that.”
“That's why we have you,” he said.
A sudden, overwhelming panic washed over her, as Hunt turned down yet another back road. She was really going to New York. Leaving her house for God knows how long. Would everything be alright? Would her world still be there when she got back?
Keefer sucked in a breath, then sneezed, head smacking into Hunt's seat. Hunt started, swerving the car on the empty road. As he got the car back under control, Keefer sniffed the seat, then licked up the snot on the headrest.
“Jesus, Sullivan,” Hunt said, leaning away from Keefer. “Control him, or he leaves the vehicle.”
“Good luck getting him out. I'd love to see that. FBI versus Rottweiler. Put this thing in four-wheel drive. It muds up back here.”
“I know what I'm doing.” Hunt nudged the switch and the SUV groaned, sliding into gear.
“I didn't say you didn't.” She grabbed the handle above the door as the car bounced up the small hill. “You just look like a city boy stranded out in the country. I'm trying to help.”
“Yeah, and you're a regular, down-home, country girl.”
She planted her feet to keep from wobbling on the seat. “I might co-operate better if you weren't such an asshole.”
“You're a criminal,” he snapped. They broke through some trees, onto one of the main roads leading away from town.
“I'm a third-grade teacher.” But, even as she spoke, the words felt strange. Hunt knew she wasn't a teacher, and the logical part of her brain told her to stop lying when she didn't need to.
“You're pretending to be a third-grade teacher,” he said.
She opened her mouth but couldn't think of a witty comeback. She didn't want to fight with him anymore. Keefer whined in the back seat and she loosened the seat belt and turned to him.
“It's okay, buddy.” She stroked his head. “We're going to New York. Big, bright city.”
Keefer whined again and laid his head on the console between the front seats. Hunt slid his elbow away from the dog's nose.
“You're more of a cat person,” she said. “Aren't you, Hunt?”
“I'm more of a goldfish person.”
“Those people are always so boring.”
He gripped the steering wheel, staring straight ahead. She watched his jawline redden from clenching his teeth. After a few minutes he seemed to relax, but stayed silent. She settled into the seat and let her head fall back against the head rest. Yawning, she looked up at the sky, at the twinkling country stars. Shouldn't she be nervous? Sitting in a car with a FBI agent? She glanced at him. He looked only a couple years older than her, and not much wider, or taller. And he didn't really want to hurt her, or at least she hoped not. Plus she had Keefer, and a small pocket knife shoved down the side of her shoe.
And she wasn't being detained. She was pretty sure Hunt was counting on the fact that she wanted to return to Tennessee as confirmation of her help. They passed the Pigeon Forge sign telling them 'Y'all Come Back!', and she couldn't help but sigh out loud.
Good-bye to the perfect little life she worked so hard to find.
Good-bye to the countless attempts at forgetting her past.
And hello dangerous, practically suicidal trip to New York.
“If everything goes as planned,” Hunt said. “You'll be back here in no time.”
Before she could stop herself, she snorted.
“You will most likely be back here,” he said.
“Why do I still not believe you?”
“If you didn't believe me, you wouldn't be sitting here.”
He had a point. She just sighed again and pressed her head against the cool window.
Don't worry, y'all. I will be back. Hopefully.
* * *
After almost thirty minutes of silent driving, Hunt pulled the car beside a landing strip in the middle of a field. He turned off the car, but left the lights on, illuminating the small, private plane. The pilot stood up from leaning against the wheel and waved to them.
Abigail hopped out of the SUV, and opened the door for Keefer. He immediately went to the grass to do his business. Hunt and the pilot grabbed her bags and took them on the plane. She stood, waiting for Keefer, breathing in the country air, saying one last good-bye.
She didn't think she'd be this broken up about anything. She'd always been taught: No attachments. But, she'd become attached to everything in this little town. The people, her school, her classroom full of kids, her house. Why? Because almost everything she was going to miss was hers? She finally had stuff to care about and keep safe, and leaving would sacrifice the security of knowing she was there to protect it?
Before she could dwell too much on those thoughts, and either make her brain hurt or bring tears to her eyes, she found Keefer and snapped her fingers.
“Keefer, let's go,” she called. But he sniffed the air and gave a small bark. He took a few steps into the field and barked again. Great. Probably a bear. Maybe it'll eat Agent Hunt and she could go back home.
Abigail jogged to Keefer and listened. It might have been the wind, but she swore she heard a low rumble. Synthetic. Keefer barked again, louder this time. Then she heard it.
The roar of a dirt bike.
“Go back,” she said to Keefer. “Go back.” He pivoted and bolted into the plane.
“Hunt!” she called, backing toward the wing. “Hunt, get out here.”
He stuck his head out of the plane. “What?”
“Any of your guys drive dirt bikes?”
A shot echoed the air and a bullet pinged off the metal just above Hunt's head.
He drew his weapon and aimed as a dark figure on a green dirt bike soared into the pool of light. The gunner fired off two more shots, then sailed behind the SUV. Hunt fired after him and missed. Abigail ducked and rushed to Hunt, grabbing her pistol from his jeans. Hunt kept firing at the dark shadow as it twisted through the field and turned back toward them. Each shot deafened her for a second, but Abigail kept her head down, stuck the holster in her waistband, and started for the roof of the plane. She scrambled toward the back fin, slipping and almost falling off the metal, and took cover. Hunt kept firing. Only a few more times and he'd be out of ammo.
She peered out from the fin, shielded the flashes from Hunt's gun with her hand, and aimed her pistol at the biker.
Almost five years had passed since she'd killed someone, and sure enough, within twelve hours of the FBI showing up, she's going to be the one to kill this son of a bitch because their own guy emptied a magazine and missed every time.
The biker fired a few rounds at Hunt, and swung his head around, trying to find her. He slowed his bike. Now was her chance.
Finger on the trigger. Slow breaths, steady hands. Aim. Fire.
The bullet hit the biker in the ribcage. His body convulsed and he tumbled off the bike. It roared up then collapsed in front of the SUV. Abigail slid off the roof, rolling on the ground and to her feet. She moved toward the biker, gun trained on his head, Hunt right behind her. The biker coughed into his helmet and reached up slowly to take it off, blood soaking his jacket and jeans.
Abigail stomped her foot on his wrists, holding them to the ground. He coughed, gagged, choking inside the helmet.
Hunt shouldered her away. “Stop, we might...”
The biker coughed once more and his body went limp.
Hunt holstered his gun and shuffled back, avoiding the blood seeping into the grass. “What the hell'd you do that for?”
“He was as good as dead anyway.” Abigail holstered her own pistol, bent and took off the biker's helmet. The interior light of the open plane door lit up the bikers face. The smell of burning grass, plastic, and cloth reached her nose. As well as the sickening scent of smouldering flesh. That was the only smell she couldn't handle, that gut twisting, nauseating stink of burnt hair and skin. Unfortunately for her, a burning rod had been one of her cousin's favourite torture tool.
Vomit and blood spotted the biker's pale skin and she covered her nose with the back of her hand, trying to shield herself from the stench.
“You know him?” Hunt asked.
She shook her head. She would've let Hunt take over, but her gut told her that this wasn't a random assassin come to kill them.
She pulled the knife from her shoe and flicked the small blade up. She waited for Hunt to comment on her hidden weapon, but he just walked to the other side of the body. Abigail lifted the biker's sticky jacket and slid the blade into the bullet hole in the fabric. Grunting, she cut away the material and did the same with the shirt.
As she pushed on the skin, some blood bubbled out of the bullet hole, spilling over her hands and wrists. She tried to wipe it from the biker's stomach, but it smeared.
“Give me your vest,” she told Hunt.
“Why?” He asked, but took the vest off anyway. “What are you looking for?”
She wiped most of the blood away and tossed the vest aside. She looked at Hunt and he read her expression. Concern spread across his face.
“You found me,” she said. “And they found you.”
Hunt shuffled around beside her and let his fingers hover over the tattoo just below the bikers ribs. “What is that? What does that mean?”
Abigail stood, lifted her shirt a little, and tugged down her jeans to just below her hip bone. The same Celtic wolf design as on the biker, sat on her right hip. Only her wolf was lying down. The one on the biker howled upwards.
“Yours is different.” Hunt took another look at the biker's then turned and studied hers.
She nodded. “Uncle Simon thought the howling looked too masculine for me. He designed this one himself.”
Hunt stood. “But you don't recognize this guy?”
“What about another group?” Hunt suggested. “People not related to you guys?”
Abigail immediately shook her head. “If he was, he wouldn't have the tattoo. The wolf means he's family, but I don't know him.”
“What about your cousin's kids?”
Again, she shook her head. “My cousins never had any kids, besides this guy's too old.”
“Then who the hell is he?”
The million dollar question. He had the tattoo, he was trying to kill them, and he happened to show up when the FBI did. He was connected with her cousins and her family, but how? Maybe Hunt was right and her cousins were building another mob. If so, then them killing Italians in New York made sense. Take out the Mafia, make room for the mob. But what about the bank robberies? How did they fit in?
Hunt cleared his throat, breaking her thoughts.
“Come on,” he said. “There's a restroom at the back of the plane to get cleaned up. I'll call in, have my men grab this guy, see if we can ID him.”
Abigail wiped her hands on her jeans, smearing the light blue fabric with blood. She scanned the field once more then started to the plane.
“Abigail,” Hunt called. She paused on the steps and turned, a wave of tiredness suddenly sweeping over her.
“You're a good shot.” He gave her a small smile and wiped his own hands on his jeans.
“Thanks.” She grinned back at him and continued into the airplane, bumping into Keefer. Shuffling around him, she nudged him to the plane door.
“Sit,” she said. “You guard Agent Hunt. He might actually prove useful in this assignment.”