“We don’t want to attract any attention.” Mick set the menu down. “I’m getting a burger.”
“Sounds good.” But Sam’s eyes remained on the brunette.
“Cool it.” Mick went to the bar and ordered two hamburgers and another round of drinks, hoping the vodka and food blunted Sam’s mood. Ten minutes later, the bartender brought their order to the table. Mick settled the bill with cash. They ate in silence. Sam didn’t mention the brunette again, and Mick hoped he’d let it go.
He tossed back the rest of his drink and stood. “This place isn’t helping. Let’s go.”
“I’ll meet you at the car.” Sam veered toward the men’s room.
Mick hunched his shoulders against the night air. Vegas might be hell on earth in the summer, but he didn’t miss the East Coast damp. He walked across the lot and slid behind the wheel. The leather froze his ass. He’d go back to the house and sleep. Tomorrow, he’d face the blond rested and fresh. She was going to challenge him, and he had payback to administer. His balls ached at the memory of her well-placed strike. She’d pay for that. The thought of extracting his vengeance from her perfect skin sent his pulse on a trip.
Anger and ideas of how to get even churned in his head. He’d never sleep if he was this excited. He opened his wallet and took out the blond’s license. Staring at her picture, he imagined her bound, gagged, and naked.
Tomorrow. You’re mine.
He turned the key in the ignition. A faint cry from behind the car caught his attention. He glanced in the rearview mirror. The brunette slumped against Sam. His brother opened the back door and laid her on the seat. The girl stirred.
“Where did you get her?”
“She was walking toward the motel. No one saw. I had a stun gun in my bag.”
What else did his brother have in his duffel?
“Go.” Sam slid into the backseat.
Mick leaned across to the glove box. He pulled out a few zip ties and a roll of duct tape. He tossed the items over the seat to his brother. While Mick drove, Sam trussed the woman like a Thanksgiving turkey. She started getting lively, and he zapped her again. When they reached the house, Sam pulled her out and threw her across his shoulder. The dogs barked as they walked up to the mobile home and let themselves in with the key.
The woman let out a scream, the volume muffled by the duct tape across her mouth.
“Shut it.” Sam slapped her on the ass. “Or I’ll cut your tongue out.”
She went quiet, her voice dialing down to sobs.
Sam carried her to the bedroom. Tossing her on the mattress, he secured her bound wrists to the headboard. The brunette flopped.
“Why her? Why tonight?” Mick’s head spun with the possible complications. “We can’t keep snatching women. This isn’t Vegas. It’s a small town. People will notice.”
“I got her for you.” Sam sounded hurt. “And I told you no one saw.”
Above the gray rectangle, her eyes were round and bright with fear, but she was still struggling.
Women like that don’t want anything to do with the likes of us.
The thought of being with men like him or Sam was the end-of-the-world scenario to her. Rage rose in Mick’s chest. He deserved a woman like this. Clean. Classy. But they all thought they were so superior. There was only one way he’d ever get one. As usual, Mick would have to take what he wanted. It didn’t matter how much money he made, a woman like this brunette or the blond bitch could see through his new car and clothes to his dirty origins. He and Sam were garbage at the curb.
“We can’t keep her,” Mick said. “She’s too old.”
A woman like this would be useless to them. Men paid extra for young bodies. The demand was highest for underage girls, and the younger ones were easier to intimidate. Didn’t take much to control a teenager. Show them who’s boss, feed them some pills, and most of them were compliant. If they weren’t, there were profitable ways to dispose of them. This woman had to be near thirty, and she was anything but compliant.
“I wasn’t planning on keeping her for long.” Sam sat down on the chair by the bed to wait his turn.
Mick turned his attention to the woman. She twisted like a fish on a hook. High-pitched screams sounded behind the duct tape gag. God damn, she’s loud. “No dead bodies in my trunk.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll figure something out.” Sam lit a cigarette. He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his spread thighs. His posture was relaxed, but excitement danced in his dark eyes. “Want me to tie her feet down?”
“No. I’m in the mood for a fight.”
“Could you hurry up, please?” Hannah zipped her jacket to her chin to block the night air. Drizzle fell in a heavy mist and beaded on her nylon jacket.
AnnaBelle sniffed the grass. The dog pulled toward the rear of the property. Hannah let her sniff until they were twenty feet shy of the creek that separated the grassy yard from the woods beyond. Moonlight glistened on the shallow water tumbling across the rocky streambed. The musical trickle would have been soothing, if the temperature had been above freezing.
Hannah stomped her feet to move her blood. Inside her boots, her toes stung from the cold.
The retriever pulled toward the narrow wooden bridge spanning the shallow water. A trail led into the trees.
“Oh, no.” Hannah resisted. “We’re not going on a hike in the dark. Nighttime walks are backyard only. You should have done all your business when Brody walked you.”
The wind gusted, sending leaves cartwheeling across the grass. She glanced back at the house. Lights glowed in the kitchen windows.
“It’s warm in there,” she said to the dog.
AnnaBelle looked toward the darkness of the trees and whined.
“Oh, sure. You’re wearing your fur coat.” Hannah hunched against the chill. The temperature seemed to be dropping by the minute. “You have five more minutes. If you have any business to do, you’d better get on with it. I’m freezing.”
A scratching sound emanated from the forest. The dog’s ears pricked forward, and her body went taut.
Hannah tugged on the leash, but moving the large, stubborn canine proved impossible. She lifted her jacket and slid her weapon from the holster at the small of her back. The dog growled and lunged.
She wrapped the leash around her wrist. “No. Come.”
What was up with this dog? Normally, except for some barking, AnnaBelle was well behaved and would follow her humans anywhere.
AnnaBelle whined. The dog turned and backed away from Hannah.
Hannah saw the disaster unfolding and was helpless to stop it. AnnaBelle ducked her head, slipped out of the collar, and bolted for the woods. The retriever splashed across the creek and disappeared down the dark trail. No. No. No!
She raced after the dog. Entering the woods, she switched on the flashlight and played the beam on the ground in front of her. A carpet of dead leaves covered most of the ground. Tracks would be difficult to find. Within minutes, the futility of her task filled her with panic. She had a vision of Carson crying as Grant told him his dog had run away. She had to find AnnaBelle. That little boy had lost both his parents. He was not going to lose his dog, too.
She needed a bribe and help.
Securing the weapon in her holster, she jogged for the house. She unlocked the door and disabled the alarm. Brody’s lecture about keeping the system armed at all times echoed in her head.
She grabbed a flashlight from the kitchen drawer and a package of hot dogs from the fridge. She reset the alarm and went back outside. With the door locked securely behind her, she set off for the woods again. She jogged across the grass and across the bridge, dialing Brody’s number as she ran.
Rain pattered on the window of Brody’s home office. Sitting behind his desk, he flipped through the search results from the query he’d run in ViCAP. Unfortunately baseball bats and strangulation were popular methods of committing violence, and Brody had far too many possibilities to sift through. The amount of rage directed at the victim pointed toward a significant other or a seriously disturbed killer.
A raspy meow sounded at his feet. He reached down to gently scoop his ancient tomcat, Danno, into his lap. The old cat kneaded his thighs, claws digging in. Wincing, Brody rubbed the orange tabby’s head. “Am I keeping you up?”
Danno butted Brody’s hand with his head.
“All right. All right.” Brody scratched the side of the old cat’s face. The purrs that sputtered from the bony body sounded as rough as a lawnmower engine that needed a tune-up. “I get it. It’s late and we should be in bed.”
The cat jumped to the floor, the sound of his paws hitting the wood surprisingly loud considering he weighed all of nine pounds. He trotted, loose-limbed, to the doorway and cast a Well? glance back at Brody.
“I’m coming.” He closed his file. The cat was right. Time for bed. His eyes were starting to cross, but he was taking tomorrow off and wanted to make sure he hadn’t overlooked a clue. He hadn’t.
His cell phone buzzed on the desk. He picked it up and glanced at the display.
His eyes went to the clock. Midnight. Alarm woke him faster than a triple espresso.