Bradley Hunt wiped the last of the drying blood on his jeans and pulled out his cell. He snapped a couple of pictures of the dead biker, then called in. After a minute long, cussed filled rant from his boss, he hung up and boarded the plane.
“Look out, dog.” He tried to push Keefer aside with his leg, but the dog didn't budge. “Move.” Hunt pushed him again and he snorted and backed up.
Hunt lifted the stairs and secured them in place, giving a thumbs up to the pilot. Sullivan's gun and knife sat on the counter and he grabbed the pistol, checked it, and turned it over in his hands. A green four-leaf clover was carved into the handle, just below the slide, the initials C.S. engraved with gold. C.S.? Sullivan's real name?
He stuck the gun and holster in his jeans. He'd punch it into his computer with all the other Intel he'd gotten from her so far. At least she'd left the pistol out instead of waiting for him to ask. Maybe she could be trusted.
After washing his hands in the sink on the counter, he unlocked the small gun safe beside the couch and grabbed a handful of bullets. Flopping in the chair, he reloaded his small pistol. In less than 12 hours he'd almost lost Sullivan, and was shot at by a Canadian gang member. Worst of all, this girl he was supposed to bring back seemed better at his job than he did. There wasn't even supposed to be gunfire in this assignment. This job should have gone by the book. Find Sullivan, rein her in and extract information. Not that he didn't like the action of a fire fight, but he was better trained at Intel.
Massaging the back of his neck, he realized he shouldn't be complaining. He was an Intel Ops Agent that asked for more field work. And that's exactly what he got.
Plus, Sullivan was an assignment all to herself. No way did she fit his image of a hardened criminal. From the grainy pictures he’d gleaned, he envisioned her as tougher. Meaner looking. Never in a million years would he have pegged her as a grade school teacher. And she actually wanted to come back to some little hick town to make a difference in people's lives. What kind of criminal does that?
His Intel also hadn’t revealed was how good a shot she was.
He’d emptied his clip, and she’d pegged the moving target with one shot. Too bad they couldn’t recruit her. What would the Bureau do if he was able to recruit her for real? What an asset she’d be.
She’d have to promise her first born before the Bureau would consider that option, but to have her on the inside, gathering Intel of the mob. You couldn’t buy that kind of information. The family never broke ranks. But Sullivan might. She’d gone rogue on them years ago. Once they were in Manhattan, he’d test the waters. See what she thought.
First he'd have to get her to trust him.
He was in way over his head, but he’d never admit that to Sullivan. Hell of a way to start his first assignment as Lead Agent.
Keefer snorted. Hunt looked down at the dog that decided Hunt would be his best friend.
Why would Sullivan slow herself down carting a dog all over the country? At least she owned a Rottweiler and not a fluffy little white dog. Keefer padded over to him and stared up at his face. Hunt stared back. What was his problem? Keefer sneezed and started licking the blood off his jeans.
“Stop.” Hunt shifted in the chair, pulling his legs away. “Go, get.”
Keefer took a step as the plane lurched forward, lifting off the ground. The dog stumbled, whacking his nose on the arm rest.
“That's what you get,” Hunt said. Keefer snorted and flopped to the ground. The water in the restroom turned off and the door opened a couple inches.
“Hunt?” Abigail called. Hunt stood, then clutched the back of the seat as the plane tilted back. Abigail yelped, the door shut, and something banged in the restroom.
He rushed through the plane and knocked on the door. Knowing his luck, she'd hit her head and be out for the next couple of days.
“I'm fine,” she called.
Hunt leaned on the wall beside the door. “What did you need?”
“The extra pair of jeans and shirt in my bag,” she said. “These are all bloody.”
He dragged her bag out from under the desk and unzipped it. Stuffed next to a can of beans and a water bottle was a ball of clothes. Grabbing a piece, he yanked the ball out, and it unfolded into jeans and a red t-shirt. A blur of bright blue fabric streaked passed him, landing in front of Keefer.
Hunt dove for the panties, but Keefer woofed and pounced, shaking the panties in Hunt's face.
Glaring at the stupid mutt with the panties hooked on his bottom jaw, Hunt stood and took the clothes to the restroom. He knocked on the door and Sullivan stuck her hand out, took the clothes, then shut the door. Hunt sighed and felt something at his feet. Keefer sat, staring up at him, Sullivan's blue panties lying on his shoe.
“Graduated top of my class,” he mumbled. “And I end up babysitting a stupid mutt.”
As he grabbed the panties, Keefer sneezed on his hand. Hunt cursed under his breath and trudged to the couch. But, as he sat there, twirling the panties on his finger, cool realization spread over him. Not even a day into this assignment and he cared about Abigail. Actually wanted to make sure she was okay. Plus it helped that she was gorgeous, even if she could kick his ass.
* ^ * ^ * ^ *
Abigail smoothed her ponytail and fluffed her bangs, trying to tame her unruly brown hair. Her green eyes looked almost as tired as she felt, and her summer freckles were fading. In another month, by mid-October, all but a few would be left. She lifted her shirt and took another look at her tattoo. Uncle Simon only allowed blood-relatives to get wolves. Non-blood family members were designated wolf paws. But, as hard as she tried, she couldn't place that dead biker. He wasn't part of the old gang, wasn't family.
Hunt would plague her with questions and she couldn't give him a damn thing, because she hadn't figured it out herself. The only thing she knew was that her cousins were onto the FBI, and followed them down here. But, why show up after the FBI had her in custody? As soon as the FBI was on her, her cousins should've been right there, intervening. Unless they weren't as organized as they appeared.
She still couldn't figure out this bank thing either. Uncle Simon taught them to rob people, not places. Especially places in the middle of Manhattan with high-tech surveillance.
Cupping her hand, she took a drink of water. She could stay in the bathroom for the whole flight, not have to endure awkward small talk and questions from Hunt, but that'd be the coward's way out. And she wasn't a coward. Uncle Simon had weaned that out of her by the time she was a teenager.
She left the bathroom and looked around the small plane. Unlike the fancy planes in the movies, Hunt's plane was a big office. Two desks sat just in front of her, and in front of them was two couches that looked like they housed pull-out beds, with a small counter and fridge near the front of the plane.
Keefer rooted through her bag, munching on the jerky while Hunt flopped on one of the couches, arm strewn over his eyes, a pair of her blue underwear in his hand. He was snoring.
“Keefer. Leave it.” Shoving him out of the bag, she zipped it up and tossed it back under the desk. Hunt stirred awake and blinked sleepily around the plane.
Abigail put her hands on her hips. “There a reason you're taking a nap with my underwear?”
Hunt rubbed his eyes, panties still in his fist. “Don't get excited. Your stupid dog was trying to eat them.”
“Sure,” she said. “Blame Keefer.”
He tossed the underwear at her. “You're hot, Sullivan. But I don't know you well enough yet to steal your underwear and dream about you.”
“You'll never know me that well, Agent Hunt.”
Tossing the panties under the desk with her bag, she strolled over to the fridge, pulling the door open and looking around. A dozen bottles of water, an apple, and a baby bottle.
“What's this for?” She pulled out the bottle.
Hunt looked at her and his cheeks turned pink. “Inside joke.”
“A baby bottle?”
He nodded, then sighed. “The guys were making fun of me for being the baby on the last assignment. It was my first time using a private FBI plane.”
Abigail set the bottle on the counter. “Your first time on this particular plane or...”
He shook his head. “My first time in a FBI plane. Ever.”
“Shit. So I am working with a rookie.”
Hunt stood. “I'm Intel Ops with the North Unit, not Field Ops. For the most part, we don't get private planes.”
“That explains why you emptied a whole magazine on only one guy.” Abigail grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge.
He glared at her. “Working with data doesn't usually require shooting a gun.”
She held up her hands. “Well, if it does, I'll make sure I'm the shooter.”
He rolled his eyes, but as he turned to the desk, she caught the smirk that played on his lips. He grabbed his laptop from one of the desks, sat back on the couch, and clicked around. She sat beside him and glanced sideways, but the computer screen was blacked out to anyone but the user. She curled her legs under her, facing away from Hunt, and sipped her water, listening to the hum of the plane.
“I was only on Uncle Simon's private plane once,” she said.
“Yeah?” Hunt never looked up from his computer.
“Anytime we had to fly somewhere, my cousins and I were paired up, and sent off to some random destination.” She swirled the water inside the bottle. “Uncle Simon would give us an alias and send us into the airport. Wherever we flew, he was always there, waiting in a specific car, outside the airport doors. He sent me to Fond-du-Lac, Saskatchewan when I was ten. I could barely pronounce the name, and Devon and I had to do four transfers to get up there.”
“What's in Fond-du-Lac?” Hunt asked, still looking at his computer.
“Nothing,” she said. “Unless you like fishing.”
“Do you like fishing?”
“Not at all.” She slipped off the couch and grabbed a ripe looking apple from the fridge. Taking a bite, she leaned against the counter.
“My alias on that trip was Journey Merriwether.”
This Hunt looked up at. “Really?”
She shrugged. “I was ten. It was a cool spy name.”
“Or a cool criminal name.”
“Again,” she said. “I was ten. Not a lot of criminal activity gets done when you're ten.”
Hunt closed his laptop. “How many people had you killed at ten years old?”
Whether he was joking or not, she was surprised when his comment poked a small hole of pain in her heart. This assignment was never going to work if he assumed everything about her was criminal. Even if it was. She looked away from him and chewed the apple. He must have taken that as her feeling insulted, because he sighed and rubbed his face in his hands.
“Sorry,” he said. “You probably hadn't-”
Again, she was talking about her past without thinking. “I'd killed four people by the time I was ten.”
Hunt blinked at her then sat back in the couch and really studied her. “Why are you telling me this?”
Abigail opened her mouth, but couldn't think of an answer, so she took a bite of the apple and put the core in the sink. As she chewed she thought of what to tell him, but truth was, she didn't know. It felt good, though. Like she'd been carrying a bag of rocks on her back her whole life. Each rock was a story from her past, and two rocks were just lifted out. For years she had made up stories about trips to Ikea, and Brownies and Girl Guides. Sharing something real felt good. Strange, but good.
Of course, she wouldn't tell Hunt this. Get all mushy in front of him. Even if she did break down, she'd probably still be tougher than him, though
“I dunno.” She flopped on the couch beside him. “Just to talk, I guess.”
He picked up his lap top again and opened the top.“Fair enough.”
He resumed typing as she glanced at him. Her confidence in him had wavered after finding out he was in Intel, not Field Ops. It looked like she was going to have to take up the brawn position in the brain/brawn team.
“Why a wolf?” Hunt asked.
“Why do you guys all have wolf tattoos?”
Abigail shrugged. “Uncle Simon liked the idea of the wolf pack. Every wolf knows its place and the pack works together, cares for each other. That's how he raised us, and that's how he ran the family.”
Hunt nodded, then typed furiously on his laptop. Guess that conversation was done. She tapped her leg and Keefer came loping over. As she scratched his ears, she thought about tomorrow. What would her town think? What would happen to her classroom, and her kids? What excuse would the FBI give people? She opened her mouth to ask Hunt what the FBI had told her friends, but her words caught in her throat as their previous conversation played in her head.
She had to work to keep her jaw shut. Either it was a coincidence that she had just told Hunt three very personal stories, or he was very, very, good at his job. And she'd learned that nothing was a coincidence.
Shit. She needed to be more careful.
* * *
They touched down on an obscure runway in the outskirts of New Jersey well after midnight. The plane barely had space to stop before the runway turned into a thick tree line. She and Hunt hadn't really spoken much after her little realization. He'd been busy on his computer anyway. She hadn't even pressed for her weapons back.
She hooked Keefer to his leash and stumbled out of the plane behind Hunt. He had her backpack, she had her bag and Keefer. As soon as they were off the plane, the pilot shut the stairs and turned the plane around, just missing the trees. An SUV, identical to the one sitting back in Tennessee, was lit by one lone spotlight, the rest of the runway was all dead grass.
The wind picked up and Abigail rubbed her arms as she walked toward the car. For a moment she missed Tennessee so much her whole body ached. The air was still warm there, and Pigeon Forge didn't smell like pond water.
Keefer hopped in the back, she climbed in the passenger seat, and Hunt started the car and they took off toward Manhattan. As they drove into the city Abigail stared out the window, like a Starling bird captivated by the shiny lights. Even Keefer pressed his nose to the glass, trying to follow every car around them.
Abigail didn't know what street they were on, but in a short while they were on the island. She craned her neck to look at the buildings, towering above them in the dark. She'd never been to New York and despite the cause of her visit, she couldn't help but picture herself walking down Fifth Avenue, going up the Statue of Liberty, and all those other New York clichés. Even if her family was after them, she could avoid them long enough to at least get a New York hot dog from an authentic New York hot dog stand. And she could probably talk Hunt into going to the top of Rockefeller Tower with her. Maybe.
She turned to Hunt, but froze at his expression. His jaw clenched, eyes flicking between his rear-view and side mirrors.
Abigail knew that look.
“Who's following us?”
“Silver Mazda. Four cars back. Hang on.”
Without signalling, Hunt crossed the right lane and turned down a quieter street. Two cars turned down behind him. A black sedan, and the silver Mazda.
Instantly, Abigail forgot about having fun in New York and spun around in the seat, survival instincts kicking in.
“One person,” she said, searching the Mazda for any other bodies. The car hung back, behind the sedan, until the sedan turned left. For a minute, just Hunt's SUV and the Mazda drove down the street.
Hunt took a sharp left, then another, driving back toward the main road.
The Mazda followed.
“You going to lose them?” Abigail asked.
“I want to know who the hell they are.”
Hunt slowed right down, pulling into a set of quieter streets. Twisting and turning, they finally lost the Mazda. Hunt backed the SUV into a dark alley, shutting off the lights, and they waited. After a minute, the Mazda cruised by them, and Hunt gunned the engine, bursting out of the alley.
The Mazda driver panicked, the engine of the little car screaming as it shot forward, swerving down the street.
“Get the plates,” he said.
As the Mazda's license plates came into view, it squealed onto a busier road. Hunt followed, narrowly missing a Hummer, horn honking. The Mazda weaved in and out of cars, Hunt catching a few feet each second. He swerved into the right lane, snaking between cars and trucks, heading for the intersection. Both cars ran the red, Hunt's back bumper narrowly escaping a UPS truck.
Abigail hung onto the handle above the door for dear life, heart in her throat, eyes on the little car. Hunt had yet to lose control of the vehicle. He hadn't hit any other cars on the road either. Impressive. Her stomach flipped with every lane change, and poor Keefer had wedged himself in the foot well between the back and front seat.
Hunt finally caught the Mazda, pulling up beside the small car. A young man, hands gripping the steering wheel, fear plastered on his face. Hunt fished his ID from his pocket and hit it against the window. The man shook his head. Hunt rolled down the window and starting yelling for the guy to pull over.
Abigail ignored Hunt and the guy's terrified expression, and focused on his hands. She'd been in this exact situation when she was fourteen. Ryker drove, and for fun he'd pulled into a rival neighborhood. The other kids jumped into their souped up Mustang and tore after them. They'd found an empty stretch of road and raced. Side by side, Ryker with a big-ass grin on his face, shouted to her over the roaring engine.
“Watch the guy's hand's Caralee. He moves, I move.” Sure enough, the guy's hands flinched and Ryker steered away, avoiding a major crash.
Fourteen years later, Abigail watched the guy’s hands, ready to grab the wheel from Hunt.
The guy's finger's loosened, then his knuckles turned white.
Hunt reacted faster than she'd anticipated. He swerved away, sped up, then turned the wheel sharply to the left. The two cars connected and spun as if in a dance routine, then hit the curb to an empty office parking lot.
The Mazda rolled first, tumbling across the pavement, windows bursting out, glass covering the pavement. The SUV hit next. Abigail jerked sideways, grabbing the handle. For a second she was weightless, sailing in the air like a balloon. Then the SUV crunched to the ground. She smashed into the door, her whole right side bruising instantly, the seat belt digging into her arm.
Closing her eyes, she waited for the SUV to stop moving. It took a second for her to get her bearings. The SUV laid on the driver's side, glass shattered around her, airbag in her face, her limbs like a pretzel. Slowly and painfully she moved, punching the airbag away, knocking glass beneath her. She found the seat belt and slapped the release button. Slowly, wincing, and holding her breath in case the car tipped again, she climbed out the window, collapsing beside the SUV.
Breathing hard, she got to all fours and shakily stood. The Mazda had rolled half a dozen times. Smoke bellowed from the hood, and two of the four tires sat crooked on the axle. From behind the car, Abigail saw a shadow.
The guy from the car.
Son of a bitch.
Stumbling at first, Abigail quickly regaining her footing and went after him. Skirting around the Mazda, the guy in her sights, she gave one final burst of speed and caught him.
She tackled him and they hit the ground hard. For a second, the parking lot lights shone on his face. She didn't recognize him.
Letting out an angry cry, she swung and hit his face. He kicked out, sending her backward to the ground. Holding her stomach, she stood and faced him, the light glinting off something in his hand.
She held out her hands. Maybe she could salvage the situation.
“Who are you working for?” she asked as calm as she could.
The guy looked completely terrified and shook his head.
“Why were you following us?”
The guy shook his head again and advanced, knife poised to stab. Abigail blocked the first blow, landing a punch to the guy's gut. He swung the knife a couple times, Abigail jumping back, avoiding the blade. Pain shot through her neck, whiplash setting in. She winced, pausing for a second. The guy attacked again. She blocked his left empty fist as a sharp pain sliced through her right upper arm.
Blinded by pain, liquid fire spread down her arm. Stumbling back, she hit the upturned Mazda. She gagged, tried to scream, but only managed a small, breathy gasp. God, it hurt. No, hurt was too weak a word. Her arm burned, seared, swelled and numbed.
Warm blood flowed down her wrist, coating her skin, dripping off her fingers.
She'd been stabbed.
God damn it.
She couldn't even feel the specific spot she'd been hit, just the throbbing pain in her upper arm trying to consume her thoughts.
The guy looked shocked for a second, then his eyes widened at something behind her and he turned and ran.
She opened her mouth to tell him to stop, but nothing came out. In the distance footsteps sounded beside her. Hunt came around the car, skidding to a stop. He stared at the guy, disappearing in the distance, then he looked at her. His head turned from the guy to her and back again a few times, before he finally pulled out his phone.
Abigail leaned on the blown out tire of the Mazda as Hunt ran a description of the guy to whoever was on the phone, and requested a car. He hung up and wrapped his arm under Abigail.
She used his weight to stand and stumble back toward the SUV. Halfway there she tripped, but Hunt caught her, easing her back to her feet. She couldn't feel her right arm, and her skin stuck to Hunt's shirt, the blood caking the fabric.
What about Keefer?
Her pain took a back seat and she lurched forward, toward the SUV. Hunt caught her, helping her toward the car. As they approached, Keefer's head popped out of the back window and he scrambled out, crashing to the ground. He saw them immediately and ran forward. Except for some cuts and scratches, he appeared uninjured. Abigail dropped to her knees and wrapped her good arm around him. He licked her face, then sniffed her arm, slurping up a tongue of blood before Hunt pushed him away.
As Abigail hung on to Keefer, and tried to stay conscious, two SUVs pulled into the parking lot. Three guys got out of one and took off toward where the guy disappeared. Two got out of the other one, followed the first group of guys. One of them tossed a set of keys to Hunt and kept moving, the other transferred Abigail's bags from the wrecked SUV to the new one.
Hunt bent to Abigail. “I have to get you in the car.”
“He got away,” she said.
Hunt looked a little bewildered, then he smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear. “It's okay.”
She wanted to apologize. Tell him that she hadn't been stabbed for a while, and she wasn't used to the shocking pain. And that, despite her dislike for the government, she was trying to help them.
Instead, she let him help her and Keefer into the car, and tried to stay awake as they pulled back into traffic.