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Cut Throatby Sharon Sala
The faint cry of her neighbor's new baby was barely audible from where bounty hunter Cat Dupree was sitting in her apartment, and yet, for some reason, it was all she could hear. She'd blocked out the thunder of her own heartbeat and was ignoring the sick, helpless feeling that had taken root in the pit of her stomach. Her entire focus was on the wanted posters plastered over the walls of her office—that and the baby's continuous wail.
Her laptop was sitting on top of a file cabinet by the door. The GPS program that was running showed a map of Mexico and a blip that, for the past thirty-six hours, had continued to move steadily westward. It was her worst nightmare come to life, yet she chose to ignore it for the faces on the wanted posters.
After all these years, the faces were as familiar to her as her own, and yet none of them matched the face of the man who, since childhood, had haunted her dreams. The man who had killed her father and left a six-inch scar along the base of her throat. The same man she'd seen only a few weeks ago and had been certain—so certain—was finally dead. She glanced back at the laptop and winced. Now she wasn't so sure.
Wind rattled the windowpanes behind her, signaling the oncoming storm heading for Dallas. Rain was imminent, but the temperature was in the high thirties, which meant no accompanying ice or snow. After the ice storm they'd endured during Christmas, a simple rainstorm was welcome news. As the wind gusted again, she shivered, then folded her arms across her chest and hunched her shoulders, thankful for the central heating in her apartment. As she did, her focus shifted to the wanted poster tacked above the doorway.
The poster of Justin "Mad Dog" Bailey was the first she'd hung more than fifteen years ago. He'd been singled out as worthy of posting for the simple fact that he had tattoos all over his face and body, one of the identifying features of her father's killer. She'd known immediately that he wasn't the man she was looking for, but she'd had to start somewhere, so she'd tacked him up. She tunneled her fingers through her hair. Her head ached, and the muscles in her neck and back were miserably tight, but that was of no importance to her. It was revenge that had driven her to where she was in life, and it was revenge she needed. Her gaze slid to the next poster.
Edward John Forrest. Edward was too young to have committed the attack on her family, but she'd felt compelled to hang his booking photos anyway, and so it had begun. Over the years, she'd acquired an impressive collection.
As she stood, she realized the neighbor's baby had quit crying. Either someone had poked a bottle in its mouth, or it had finally given up and fallen asleep. The silence was oddly uncomfortable. Now there was nothing to sidetrack her awareness of that damned laptop and the map on its screen.
Frustrated by her lack of willpower, Cat glanced up again, squinting slightly as the light glared on the monitor, blurring the geography through which the blip continued to move. Even though she couldn't see it clearly, she knew it well.
It was Mexico—the place where she'd run her best friend's killer to ground.
She glanced back at the wanted posters all over her office walls. After Mexico, they were redundant, because there she'd come face-to-face with not only the man who'd killed her friend Marsha, but the tattooed man she'd spent half her life looking for. His name was Solomon Tutuola, and while, for the third time in her life, she had unexpectedly lived to see another day, she had been under the assumption that Tutuola had not. Then this damned blip had resurfaced, taunting her with the possibility that her assumption had been wrong.
Feeling defeated, she moved slowly toward the doorway, then paused under Mad Dog's poster and reached up. The paper crackled as she slipped a fingernail beneath the edge. For some reason she hesitated, discovering it was more difficult to remove than it had been to put up.
Finally she pulled it down and dropped it into the trash, then reached for another one. One by one, she pulled them down, until the walls were completely bare and the trash can was full to overflowing. She emptied it, then began dumping the stacks of posters on the floor into another bag.
Almost an hour passed before the task was finished, and then she finally allowed herself another look at the laptop. The blip was motionless. Whoever was carrying the bugged property that was showing hot on the laptop had stopped for the night.
She grimaced. The bastard was getting more rest than she was. Frustrated, she looked back at the filled trash bags littering the floor and sighed. Those images had been such a part of her life, it seemed strange that she didn't need them anymore.
Last month she'd finally put a name to the face of the man who'd killed her father.
Last month she'd watched the house he'd been in blow up and then burn.
Last month she'd been certain he was dead.
Now she wasn't so sure.
The motionless blip was like a taunt—a "come and find me if you can" dare that she couldn't ignore.
Cat sighed. It was time to see if the devil was dead, or if—as she feared—he'd resurrected himself. But before she absented herself from Dallas again, she had to tell her boss, Art Ball. Just because she had an agenda, that didn't mean he could put his bail-bond business on hold for her. There would always be bail jumpers to find. She just wasn't going to be the one doing it for him—at least not for a while.
And then there was Wilson McKay. She wasn't sure what she was going to do about him. She refused to admit that he deserved any kind of explanation of what she was up to. Just because they'd had sex— unbelievable sex—didn't mean she owed him anything. And just because he'd helped her bring in Mark Presley, the man who'd killed Marsha Benton, that didn't mean she had to keep him updated on the rest of her life.
Part of her wanted to blame Wilson for this uncertainty. When the house where Presley and Tutuola had been hiding out down in Mexico caught on fire, she'd captured Presley, then wanted to go back to make sure Tutuola was dead.
But Wilson had stopped her.
The fact that she would most likely have died if she'd gone back into the burning house was beside the point. When she was being honest with herself, she knew there was no one to blame. But she couldn't live with herself until she knew for sure if her father's killer had survived.
Tomorrow she would call Art and then head south to the border. She had to know who was behind that blip. If it was some Mexican local who'd come across some of Mark Presley's bugged property, then so be it. But if it was Tutuola, then her job still wasn't done. As much as she dreaded another long road trip, she was satisfied with her decision. Within moments, Cat walked out of her office and headed for her bedroom to pack.
It had been almost a week since Wilson McKay had seen Cat. When he was rational, he told himself to just let her go. It was obvious she didn't want anything from him except the occasional round of sex. He should have been happy to just take what she gave out with a thank you and a pat on her butt. Any other woman and he would have. But not her. She'd gotten under his skin in a way no other woman had done and, despite everything he believed in and every instinct he had that told him to let her go, he just couldn't—which explained why he was on his way to her apartment unannounced, with a pizza and a six-pack of beer.
Traffic was heavy on the bypass, but nothing out of the ordinary for Dallas on a rainy Saturday night. The smell of pepperoni wafted under Wilson's nose as he took the exit leading to Cat's apartment building, while the constant sweep of windshield wipers kept the view clear. His radio was tuned to a country station—its style matched his mood and the dark and stormy weather. He needed a Cat fix—at the least, a long session of kissing and cuddling, at the most, a long night with the wildcat in his arms. Just the thought of how it felt to bury himself deep inside her made him ache with want. She was a handful between the sheets, always giving back as good as she got. He had yet to understand how a woman with that much passion in bed managed to stay so cold and distant from everyone she knew. He suspected it had to do with all she'd endured at such a young age, and because of that, he just wasn't willing to give up on her—yet.
The glow of headlights from the heavy flow of traffic was refracted by the rain, while the constant swish of wipers gave the night streets a garish appearance. Wilson thought of the comfort waiting for him inside Cat's cozy apartment and refused to consider the fact that her welcome might not be as warm.
When he pulled into the parking lot and circled her building in search of a space, he couldn't help but notice that the lights were on in her apartment. Now it came down to the crunch. She was home, but would she welcome him in or send him packing with a sharp word and a glare from her cold, blue eyes?
He parked, grabbed the pizza and beer, and headed for the door. He would know soon enough how warm his welcome would be.
Cat was on her hands and knees in the back of her closet, searching for the matching boot to the one already sitting next to her suitcase, when she thought she heard the doorbell ring. Frowning, she rocked back on her heels and listened again.
This time she heard the chimes clearly and frowned. "Who in the—"
Wilson. She knew without a doubt that it was Wilson McKay. He was the only person who visited her and the only one she knew who would come without calling. Probably because he figured she wouldn't answer the door if she knew he was coming, and she almost didn't answer it now. Despite her instincts telling her to leave him standing there, she headed for the living room, hating herself for the spurt of excitement she was feeling. She didn't really have time for this, but ignoring him might raise more suspicion than if she just let him in and got it over with. At least, that was what she was telling herself as she reached the front door. A quick peek through the peephole was all she needed to see that her guess had been right. It was Wilson—and to her disgust, the sight of him made her pulse skip.
"Hey," she said, as she opened the door.
Wilson breathed a sigh of relief. She was in a good mood.
"Hey, yourself," he said, and before she could dodge him, he leaned in and kissed her square on the mouth.
Her eyes were flashing as he pulled back. He couldn't tell if she was pissed or enjoying the passion he'd put in the kiss.
"Have you eaten?" he asked, offering the pizza. Cat inhaled deeply, surprised by the hunger pangs she was feeling.
"No, and for that reason only, you can come in," she said, then lifted the pizza box from his hands and headed to the kitchen, knowing he would follow. "I should have called," Wilson said, as he set the six-pack of beer on the kitchen counter.
Cat set the pizza box down and turned to face him. "Why didn't you?"
He shrugged. Truth had served him well thus far in life. He figured he might as well continue the process.
"I figured you would tell me no."
Cat frowned. She hadn't expected his honesty. Now she had no choice but to respond in kind.
"You would have been right," she said.
Despite a stab of regret, he grinned and shrugged.
"So I saved us both some guilt and anxiety. Do you want your beer in a glass or straight from the can?"
Cat thought of the trip she was about to make and decided against anything alcoholic. Without answering, she handed him a glass, then filled one for herself with ice and Pepsi and laid out two plates.
Wilson reached for the roll of paper towels. He tore off a couple of sheets to use as napkins and then got a shaker of red-pepper flakes from the cabinet where she kept her spices.
Cat was torn between admiring his good looks and being a bit intrigued with the tiny gold hoop earring he wore in his left ear. As usual, his hair was a style in progress. He wore it in a buzz cut that always seemed to be a week past needing a trim. There was a small scar beneath his right eye and enough of a bump on his nose to know it had been broken more than once. His shoulders were broad, his legs long and muscular, his belly hard and flat.
Cat was well aware of how fit he was beneath the denim and leather, and was thinking of what would come later—after pizza and beer. She wouldn't lie to herself and pretend she didn't want him, because she did. They would have sex. Wilson McKay was damn good at it, and she wasn't a fool. No sane, single, red-blooded woman would turn down a roll in the hay with someone who exuded sex appeal like Wilson McKay. But the moment she thought of having sex with him, she remembered the half-filled suitcase and the chaos in her bedroom.
Shit. "Uh Wilson go ahead and sit down. I'll be right back."
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