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“Is Reuben Braswell there?”

“Who? Is that the other guy?”


It didn’t matter who she was with—he was a threat.

“Ava, if he learns I found my phone and—”

“I want you to hang up and call 911,” Ava ordered. “They’ll lock on to your location. Tell them everything—”

“No! No police!”

Mercy swore under her breath and used her console to dial 911.

“Jayne,” Ava said firmly, “you are with a dangerous man. We need the police.”

“He’ll kill me,” she whispered.

“Do it now. I’m hanging up, Jayne. I’ve got directions to your location, so I want you to dial 911 from your phone right now. We’re calling them too. I’ll make sure they send plenty of help so you’re safe.”

The call abruptly ended.

“Dammit!” Did he find her?

Ava clutched her phone in her hand, staring at the location showing Jayne’s icon, willing it not to disappear. If the icon vanished, it would mean someone had turned off her phone, and it probably wouldn’t have been Jayne.

Carefully setting her phone on the dashboard, Ava half listened to Mercy tell the 911 dispatcher that Jayne was being held by someone who was armed and very dangerous. She removed her Glock from her bag’s special pouch and slid an extra magazine in her pants pocket.

What are we walking into?

The dispatcher stated someone else was currently taking Jayne’s call and that they had her location.


“Jayne said he’s arguing with someone,” Ava told Mercy and the dispatcher. “Another man. I got the impression that no one else is there, but I can’t be positive.” She glanced at Mercy. “She said the man holding her is Cliff.”

“What? It’s not Reuben Braswell?”

“She didn’t recognize that name. He could be lying to her.”


“Whoever it is has harmed her, and she’s terrified. Our plan is still the same.” She told Mercy to take another turn, and they headed up a steep hill. “I think we need to park down the road from her location and go in on foot.”

“We’ll wait for backup.”

“Yes, but I want to get within visual. I think we’ll have good cover with the trees.”


Ava studied the map and told Mercy to pull over. The road had turned to dirt after the first mile, but they were nearly upon Jayne’s icon. Mercy parked at the edge of the gravel road, and Jayne’s icon vanished. Ava gasped, her lungs suddenly tight.

“She’s gone!”

“What do you mean?” Mercy asked.

“Her phone turned off. I doubt she did it herself. Dammit!”

“We’re close, though, right?”

“I think it’s just up this road.” She hopped out of the SUV. “Do you have another vest?” She’d left the one she’d worn earlier in her vehicle.

Mercy blanched. “I don’t. Take mine.”

“No. You wear it. We don’t have time to argue about it.”

Mercy clearly wanted to argue but didn’t. She opened the back of her SUV and pulled on her vest. “Wear my jacket. At least it will tell our backup who you are.”

Ava slipped on the light windbreaker and instantly started to sweat. It was nearing ninety and there was no breeze.

“Jayne would never go through this sort of effort for you,” Mercy stated.

“I know. It doesn’t matter.”

“You’re risking your life for someone who could care less about you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Ava repeated. She knew her twin cared about her on some level, and although Mercy was correct that Jayne would never lift a finger to help her, it made no difference to Ava.

This is who I am.

The area was silent and smelled like sunbaked dirt. Mercy checked her weapon, and the women jogged up the road. Mercy informed the dispatcher of their movements and intent to get a visual on the cabin.

“There,” whispered Ava. A section of pine-needle-covered roof showed through the trees. The women immediately moved off the road. It wasn’t a heavily wooded area with huge firs. Most of the trees were smaller pines, too thin to completely hide behind, but the scrub brush was thick and dense.

They froze as yelling filled the air.

Two men. Just as Jayne had said.

They exchanged a look of resolve and continued to move closer, their weapons ready. Ava keenly felt the loss of her vest, but their plan was to stay back at a safe distance.

More of the cabin came into view. A Dodge Durango truck was parked in front along with the silver Mustang, its dark-tinted windows covered with a fine layer of road dust.

Reuben has to be here.

Between the Mustang and the cabin, two men were brawling. Full-fledged punches to the face and powerful kicks to the legs. One lunged and caught the other in a headlock, and both fell to the ground, blocked from Ava’s view by the silver car. The men swore and cursed at each other.

Ava and Mercy carefully moved left among the trees to try to see around the car as Ava scanned the cabin area for any sign of Jayne.

Where are you?

A dust cloud formed where the men wrestled on the ground, shoving each other’s faces into the dirt and still flinging punches. One lurched to his feet and kicked the other. Ava got a clear view of the kicker’s face over the hood of the car.

Reuben Braswell.

The Mustang’s driver’s door was wide open, the seat tipped forward toward the steering wheel as if someone had recently climbed out. Reuben slammed the other man’s head against the front fender. The man moaned and disappeared behind the car as he sank to the ground. Reuben staggered backward a few steps and then veered toward the open door.

He’s leaving.

Ava took three steps closer, ignoring Mercy’s hiss to stay back.

“No! I’m not going!” Jayne’s shout filled the clearing, and she lunged out from the back seat of the car. Ava halted, stunned at her sister’s sudden appearance.

Jayne’s hands were tied at the wrists, and blood ran from a cut near her eye. Ava couldn’t see lower than her chest because of the car, but her movements indicated her legs weren’t tied. She plowed into Reuben, pushing him aside, but he neatly caught her with an arm around her waist.

“Back in the car!”

Jayne shrieked and bucked against his arm. He bent into the Mustang near the driver’s seat, Jayne still trapped against him. As he straightened, Ava caught a glimpse of a pistol in his other hand.

It was in the car.

Ava raised her weapon another inch, but the Mustang was in the way, and Jayne was thrashing in his arms.

No shot.

Reuben turned toward the front of his car, his upper arm moved forward, and the crack of his shot filled the air.

The man on the ground screamed, and Jayne’s shriek erupted a split second later. Ava looked to Mercy, who had moved ten feet forward and to her left, but the woman shook her head. Neither had a shot with Jayne tight against Reuben’s torso.

Jayne swung her bound hands over her shoulder at Reuben’s face as she continued to kick and scream. He slammed the butt of the pistol against her head, but she didn’t stop fighting.

Ava stepped closer. I have to do something.

Jayne suddenly went limp, using her weight to throw him off-balance. Reuben floundered forward a step and wrapped his other arm around her.

Another shot cracked, and Jayne’s howl of pain turned Ava’s blood to ice.

She’s shot!

Reuben flung her into the back seat and shoved the driver’s seat back into position.

“Stop!” Ava shouted. “Federal agents.”

He glanced her way and dropped into the front seat, slamming the door closed and starting the engine. The tires spun as he floored the gas pedal, and the car leaped forward. It turned onto the road, speeding away in the opposite direction from where Ava and Mercy had just come.

Fury rushed through Ava. She could shoot at the rear window, but Jayne was in there somewhere, still screaming at the top of her lungs.

No shot.

The throaty roar of the engine sounded, and the car disappeared around a bend.

“Let’s go,” she shouted at Mercy. Her vehicle, now.

But Mercy knelt by the man on the ground, pressing her hands against his bleeding chest. “Give me your jacket!”

I’ve got to go after Jayne.

Ava froze, torn between running to their vehicle and helping. “Dammit!” She ripped off the windbreaker, balled it up, and pressed it against the wound, kneeling beside Mercy.

“I’ve got a kit in my vehicle.” Mercy pushed to her feet and dashed toward the road.

Ava pressed harder and the man moaned.

Reuben’s getting away. How badly was Jayne hurt?

“Hey!” She caught the man’s painful gaze. “You’re going to be okay. What’s your name?”

“Fuck off.” He groaned and tried to roll to his side.

A large exit wound high on his back, near his shoulder, bled freely. She pushed him flat on his back.

“You’ve been shot, you idiot. Hold still.”

“I’m going to kill him!”

Not if he killed you first.

The FBI windbreaker wasn’t absorbent, and the blood soaked Ava’s hands. Hurry up, Mercy. She took the man’s fury and fight to be good signs, but there was still too much blood.