Nearly jumping at the thought that it was her husband, the tiny burst of elation inside her fizzled when she saw that it was a private number. After ducking into one of the second-floor bathrooms for privacy she answered on the third ring. “Hello?”
“One of his aliases landed in Miami last night,” the soft, familiar male voice said quietly.
The caller, who didn’t bother to identify himself—because he didn’t need to—also didn’t need to specify who had landed in Miami. Mara knew and a chill skittered down her spine. Still, she couldn’t help but ask, “You’re sure?”
“The forger who made his new identities was found dead in his flat, but we found a backup flash drive. He currently has three identities though that will likely change now that he’s in Miami.”
Mara leaned against the counter, staring blindly at herself in the mirror. She looked so different than she had three years ago. Her hair was shorter, blond, and she wasn’t as lean and tough as she used to be. Not to mention she had a new name and identity. Clearly that didn’t matter. The monster had somehow tracked her here. He should be in prison, rotting away, but he’d seen a weakness in the infirmary’s security and exploited it to escape.
When she didn’t respond, her friend spoke again in that familiar British accent. “You can always come home. We’ll protect you.”
She didn’t want to go back to London ever again. She didn’t want to go back to the nightmares. If she did, she knew what would happen. Her old job was waiting for her and she’d be too tempted to take it even if it would slowly kill her. She was done with that life. “I’ll just start over somewhere else.” Her voice was hollow, much like the pit of her stomach as the words hit home.
“I never took you for a coward.”
She hissed in a sharp breath then disconnected. Keeping her husband alive didn’t make her a coward. But she didn’t owe anyone an explanation.
Downstairs she found Pamela cooking at the stove with one of the women. The moment Pamela saw her, she stopped what she was doing and hurried toward Mara. “What’s wrong?”
Was she really that easy to read? The thought made her shudder but she pushed past it. “I need to borrow your car. Just for a couple hours. I’ll bring it back as soon as I can.”
Nodding, Pamela reached into her jeans pocket and handed the keys to her. “Is Harrison—”
Mara snorted, not willing to let her friend finish that thought. “Not in a million years. This has nothing to do with him.” Well, nothing other than keeping him safe. And if Neville Perdue was in Miami, she needed to get the hell out of town. Neville wouldn’t stop at hurting her. He would go after her husband and friends but if she ran, he would definitely follow. That was the only way she’d be able to ensure Harrison stayed safe. He meant more to her than anyone ever had. She’d never imagined it was possible to love someone so much, but he’d barreled into her life and now she was dying bit by bit as she realized she’d probably lose him.
Sighing, she locked down the sadness trying to well up inside her. There would be time enough for a pity party later. First, she needed to get a few supplies. Because when that bastard came after her, she was going to be prepared.
Mara glanced in the rearview mirror before taking another turn into one of the shadier areas of Miami. When she’d first gotten word that Neville Perdue had escaped from prison overseas about a month ago, she’d known bone deep that this day might come. So she’d started leaving work early to do some recon of various weapons dealers. She knew who the bigger fish were in town, but she preferred to buy from someone much lower in the hierarchy, so as not to draw attention.
She never wanted anything traced back to Harrison and even though he had no part in this, she wanted him protected. It wasn’t as if she could just take weapons from him. He might work for a security company but she wouldn’t steal from her own husband and, if she did, all those weapons would be registered anyway. Buying illegal weapons could hurt his family name so she was being vigilant not to get caught. As part of her ‘just in case’ plans, she was glad she’d stashed a wig, ball cap and oversized sweater in her trunk. Not the best disguise in the world, but it would do for where she was going. The man she was buying guns from wouldn’t care who she was. All he would care about was that her cash was real.
As she neared the pawn shop that she knew was a front for selling weapons, she pulled out one of the throw away phones she’d bought the week before and texted her contact to inform him she was in the parking lot. She’d purposely smeared dirt and mud over the license plate and she parked in the farthest spot with her tail end turned toward the street. She’d been inside the shop during normal business hours in a different disguise and knew the owner didn’t have any video cameras, but she liked to be careful. It had been drilled into her many years ago and some lessons went deep.
There were bars over the two big windows and the neon sign that said OPEN was turned off. After her text, the sign flickered on once, then went off just as quickly. It was her signal that it was clear to come in.
After glancing down the nearly deserted street—except for prostitutes and drug dealers skulking in the shadows—she slid from the vehicle and walked briskly across the gravel parking lot.
She hadn’t had time to get gloves so she pulled her sweatshirt sleeves down to cover most of her hands and when she opened the front door, she used the sleeve. The moment she stepped inside, there were two men waiting right by the entrance. Manuel, the seller, stood about five feet ten inches and he was clearly in charge. She would have known even if she hadn’t done recon. With dark hair and watchful dark eyes, the Hispanic man had an air of cockiness about him.
He nodded at the taller, thuggish-looking white man with a shaved head and multiple piercings in his ears, nose, lips and eyebrows. Pretty stupid for a security guy to be pierced like that when his own body art could be used against him in a fight, but it wasn’t her problem.
As the taller guy strode toward her, she held out her arms. She’d known they would want to frisk her for a wire and weapons. He looked almost surprised that she was acquiescing so easily, but she didn’t have time to spare. She wanted to get her weapons then get out.
She kept her gaze straight on Manuel as his thug searched her. When his hands stayed a little too long on her butt, she gritted her teeth. “Keep moving or you’ll lose the ability to walk.”
The guy chuckled, as if the thought was ludicrous, but the rest of his scan was quick and efficient. Manuel’s gaze narrowed slightly on her, but he was silent until Mr. Piercings stepped back.
“She’s clean and has the money strapped around her middle,” he murmured.
Manuel nodded once. “What do you need weapons for?”
Mara snorted. “Are you in the business of questioning all your clients or are you asking because I’m a female?” She knew exactly how men like this operated. If she gave an inch or showed fear they would pounce like the predators they were.
“Calm down mi chula,” Manuel murmured, as if he was humoring her.
“I’m not your girl, your cutie, or your anything. If you want to do business, fine. If not, I’ll go somewhere else.” She intentionally named two of his competitors.
His back straightened and he was suddenly all business. Manuel motioned toward the front door, which his thug locked, then signaled for her to follow him.
Mara didn’t like giving her back to anyone so she kept an eye on the mirrors along the wall and the reflections of the glass cases as she followed Manuel to the back. The other guy wasn’t far behind her, but he’d given her enough personal space that she didn’t feel crowded.
The second she stepped past a gaudy beaded curtain into a private office, she realized that Manuel didn’t plan to sell her anything. She could see it in his rigid stance and when he made a move to draw a weapon from underneath the front of his shirt, she struck out first.
Knowing she only had seconds to momentarily disable him and make sure the thug at her back couldn’t take her out with his sheer strength, she slammed her booted foot into Manuel’s stomach.
Crying out, he flew backward, rolling over his desk. Though she wanted to lunge after him, she turned and slammed her foot down on the other man’s instep with serious force. He howled and swung wildly at her, but she kept attacking. Kicking out, she made contact with his knee this time. He let out a hideous scream and hunched over as he started to fall. Thrusting up with her knee, she broke his nose and ripped out his eyebrow ring with her hand. Pulling out the ring was overkill, but she didn’t care. She needed him to stay down.
Though it felt like an eternity, only seconds had passed. As she swiveled back toward Manuel he was struggling to pull himself up using the desk. He’d taken longer than she’d thought. Thankful for the extra seconds he’d given her, she quickly scooped up the gun he’d dropped and pointed it at his head while the other man moaned in a bloody mess on the floor. She then divested the thug of a revolver. Pointing both weapons at the men, she stepped back, keeping a few feet between them. Her brunette wig had twisted so that it was obvious it wasn’t her hair but the cap was on tight enough, keeping it in place. They might guess she was a blond, but her cap was low enough to cover her pale eyebrows and they were both a little distracted. She doubted they’d be worrying about her hair color.
“Do your normally rob your customers?” she asked Miguel sweetly. “Bad way to do business.”
Manuel kept his hands in the air as he stood, cursing at her in Spanish as he shot daggers at her with his eyes.
“Enough,” she snapped when it didn’t seem as if he planned to stop his tirade. “I want the weapons I came for.”
He nodded toward an oversized picture of dogs playing poker. “There are two Glock 17s, a 357 and a 45 in a safe.”
“Are the last ones Smith and Wesson?” As she’d requested during their first conversation. She was picky about her weapons of choice.