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Always have been, from the playground to the prison yard.

The message said to come alone, but that didn’t mean I didn’t need back up on stand by. I looked down at my phone. Eight p.m. I had time and thank fucking God, because I would need every single second of it. I dialed Bear. No answer. I slammed my fist on the steering wheel and rested my forehead against it. Of course not. He’d been even more fucked up in the head since the shit with Eli went down. He was probably fucked up to no end and cock deep in Beach Bastard pussy. I looked up from the wheel and staring me right in the face was a sign for the exit for Coral Pines.

It was a sign, but I took it as a sign.

Because there was only one person I knew in Coral Pines and he was exactly who I needed.

I spun the tires in the wet grass. I barreled off the ramp and toward the only person I knew who could help in a moment’s notice.

No, the only person who could kill in a moment’s notice.

*     *     *

Jake Dunn was a killer for hire. Or at least he was before getting married and settling down. Only a few people in this world knew that about him. If he didn’t have the tattoos and the attitude, at first glance, you would think he’s just another clean-cut kid from the beach.

Jake Dunn was the walking, talking equivalent to an angel of death.

And the only reason I even knew about that part of his life was because we had a mutual acquaintance who put us in touch while I was in prison. The Dutchman called Jake The Moordenaar. The Murderer.

Subtle.

When I pulled up to Jake’s little Mayberry house, I didn’t even have time to really take in the absurdity of Jake Dunn living in a house with little pink shutters and a swing set in the front yard.

I leapt out of the truck and up the front steps, frantically knocking on the door. “Just a minute!” a woman’s voice called out. I knocked louder. “Just a freaking minute!” she yelled again.

The door came flying open and the little red head who appeared was about to say something, like she had assumed she knew who would be on the other end, until she looked up and her mouth closed.

She never expected me. “I assume you’re not here to check on the status of your art work,” she said flatly crossing her arms and leaning up against the door jam. She was wearing little jogging shorts and a clingy tank top that made the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra obvious.

“I need Jake,” I said. I wanted to throw her aside and barge in to find him but Abby was the only thing in the world Jake actually cared about, beside his daughter, so the chances of me doing that and still receiving his help, and not end up at the bottom of the swamp, were slim to none.

“Yeah, I assumed as much. He’s out back.” She looked down at my muddy clothes. “Go around,” she said, pointing to the side of the house. I turned around but her words caught me. “You okay?” “No. I’m not okay at all. My girl’s in trouble,” I said honestly. I didn’t have time for mind games. I didn’t have time for anything. I only had until 11p.m. to figure out how I was going to save my girl.

“I’ll take you there,” Stepping out onto the front porch, Abby closed the screen door behind her and lead me out back to where Jake was sitting on the seawall, a Corona by his side, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

A pink Barbie fishing pole in his hands.

“Babe, I’m getting her a real pole because this cheap piece of shit doesn’t even wind properly. I know she likes it because it’s pink but Jesus fucking Christ this thing couldn’t reel in a minnow.”

“Jake,” she interrupted and he looked up from what he was doing and spotted me approaching. “He needs your help.”

Jake took a swig of his beer and set down the pole.

“Press play,” I said, tossing him the phone.

Abby went to stand next to him and while they watched, neither of them said a thing. While Abby looked horrified, Jake didn’t even react, while hearing it again made another piece of me feel like it died.

“What you need is a soldier. I’m not exactly the soldiering kind,” Jake said.

“If I get her back, and the motherfucker is somehow still alive when it’s all said and done, you can have him. Do whatever the fuck you want to him as long as the result is the same—him no longer breathing.”

Jake wrinkled his nose. “Nah man. Can’t take that from you. Revenge shit like this makes your blood boil and your dick hard all at the same time.”

Jake tossed me my phone and I scrolled through the pictures, stopping at the one I’d taken just that morning. I’d taken it for my own sick pleasure, not realizing how it could come in handy. I held up the phone, showing him the screen. “You can also have this,” I said.

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