I fucking hate running.
I sprint in the opposite direction of Clint. I told him he shouldn’t deal on campus, let alone to a freshman. Those young kids have no idea what they are doing. They talk too much and have no idea what the definition of discrete means. Hence, why I’m sprinting from the cops. Well, that’s the story I’ll go with later, anyway. No doubt Clint will want to know how the police got wind of this exchange on campus, and blowing my cover isn’t in my plans. Not now. Not ever.
“Jesus, Baxter, slow your steps!”
I laugh and pick up the pace.
“Every time you make me work for it! Paybacks are a bitch!”
I hear footsteps close behind me and know the exact moment he leaps.
“Fuck,” I cry out, my shoulder bouncing off the dirt and loose gravel finding its way into my mouth. I crouch, spitting some of it out.
“I told you paybacks are a bitch,” Michaels says. “Every single time, you run.”
“I have to make it look real,” I laugh. “Plus, you do have to work for it. I have a reputation to live up to.”
“Your assignment ran in the opposite direction.”
“So?” I ask, and this time he chuckles along with me.
“Suspect one in custody, Michaels. What’s your location?” comes through loud and clear on his shoulder mic.
“This is my favorite part,” he says to me before answering.
I roll my eyes, but I’m still smiling. My job is nothing short of exciting.
“Suspect is face down in the dirt and cuffed,” Michaels says with another laugh.
“Serves him right,” the other voice, who I know is Wade, chuckles.
“Let’s go,” Michaels says, handing me his cuffs. “You’ve got less than sixty seconds to put those on before Wade pulls the car around.”
“Can I just get in one punch?” I ask.
“Come on. I need to make it look like I put up a fight.”
“You’re so boring,” I say, latching the metal behind my back. Michaels nods in approval and elbows me in the gut as the cruiser pulls up.
“Bastard,” I say, bending over.
“And you thought I was boring.” He laughs, shoving me into the back of the car next to Clint.
“Keep your mouth shut,” Clint says. Not even an attempt to whisper that to me. I catch Wade’s eyes as he twists to face us.
“What the fuck are you looking at?” I ask.
He shakes his head and turns back to focus on the road.
I fucking love my job.
At the station, Wade puts the car in park and pulls both Clint and me from the back. He leads Clint toward the jail cells, and Michaels points me in another direction. Clint starts to curse at Wade, while Michaels and I laugh.
“Eventually, Wade is going to be pissed we always make him take the grunt work,” I say.
“I think he secretly enjoys the fight.”
“We should get him on the inside,” I say. “I think he’d do great.”
“I agree, but that’s not your call to make,” Michaels says, uncuffing me as we step through a set of double doors.
“We’re about fifteen minutes behind schedule, thanks to you and your race to fun,” he says, pointing at Captain’s door. “He’s waiting for you.”
I nod and head that way.
“You’re late,” Captain snaps, dropping a yellow folder on the desk when I walk through the door. His dark eyes stare me down. I’d be nervous if I didn’t know the man for the past seventeen years, six of which I’ve worked on his team. He’s six feet tall, bald, and has arms almost the size of my hips. Working out with this man is a fucking challenge.
I pull out the chair across from him and sit, nodding.
“It’s all part of my new persona,” I say with a Cheshire smile. “You know, campus drug dealer takes his sweet time, yadie, yadie ya.”
He lets out a chuckle. “I’d call bullshit, but, you’re one of my best, so I don’t actually care as long as you’re getting the job done.”
“I always get the job done.”
Except for that one time—the first time. Which, technically, I still put my target in jail, so I guess that means it was a success. I just wouldn’t call it that. When someone dies, it’s never a success.
“Don’t let it go to your head,” he adds and glances to the folder. “That’s new information on your current assignment and a glance at the next one, assuming you still finish this in the next two weeks.”
Getting ahead on the next job is always a safe bet to make in this industry. Especially when most assignments blend together and finding information on the upcoming task during the current one happens more often than not. I slide the envelope my way and peek inside.
“You can’t be serious,” I say, standing to lean against his desk. “Another drug dealer with a history of violence and assault. I swear, everyone at work thinks I’m capable of nothing else when it comes to working undercover.”
“Like I said, you get the job done. That’s our goal here.”
“Maybe next time we can spice it up a bit,” I say, not joking in the slightest. I’m sick of these petty jobs. I want more action. Bigger challenges.
“Why change up a good thing?” Captain asks.
I grunt, stepping behind the brown leather chair that sits across from him and resting on the back of it with my forearms. “You and I both know I’m capable of so much more. You can’t call me your best and then toss the crap jobs my way.”
“Maybe next time, Jett. For now, research the papers right here.” He taps the folder. “And tomorrow night we can have a small online debrief on our target.” He stares at me, his eyes daring me to argue with him. “Oh, and before I forget, Jimmy Kincaid instigated a yard fight and escaped from the state’s prison late last night. Keep your eye out.”
“Jimmy Kincaid, as in we-still-have-no-idea-where-he-stashed-his-millions Jimmy Kincaid?” I ask. Every officer I’ve ever met has worked on the Kinkaid case at one point in their career. It was the first case my father couldn’t crack. It was also one that cost him his life.
“That’s the one. He and Clint used to work together. If there is a chance he seeks out your assignment, I want to know about it and get him back in prison without drawing attention.”
“Hold up,” I say, physically holding my hand up as I process this new information. This is big. Huge. Every cop with time to spare will want a piece of this action.
Captain tilts his head and leans back on a deep breath.
“Don’t go getting any ideas, Jett. You’ve got that same damn look your father used to give me.”
“It’s not an idea; it’s a plan.”
“Oh, here we go,” Captain says, leaning forward now to give me some speech, but I cut him off.
“If Jimmy reconnects with Clint, and I’m still around when he does, we could use this to find the money.” This is a fact he already knows. I’m just warming up.
“It’s impossible and too much of a threat to leave him walking free,” Captain says. “You’re my youngest undercover officer, Jett, and losing your life at twenty-six isn’t an idea I’d back up.”
“Just hear me out,” I tell him, ignoring his comment. Again, he opens his mouth, but I beat him to the punch. “If he’s out of prison, that money will be his only option to keep out of sight. The more he has, the less likely he will be found because his resources with that money will be unlimited and he can stay hidden. All we need to do is find Jimmy, and he will lead us to the money. If he makes contact with Clint, I will make it happen.”
“You make it sound so much simpler than it is, but I still don’t like it.”
“Okay, okay, how about this,” I say. I’m not giving up. “I make it happen; I get to pick my jobs from here on out. If I can’t make it happen, you won’t hear me complain about a job ever again.”
Captain raises his brows and he smiles. “It would be nice to hear you talk a lot less.”
“So it’s a deal then?” I ask.
He sighs and his chair creaks as he leans back. “The original case was your father’s, and I just want to be sure that this isn’t some plan you want to move forward with for revenge purposes is it?”
“No, it’s not,” I keep my voice firm and refuse to drop my eyes from him.
I let my emotions take over in one case, and as I said before, someone lost their life. Becoming attached to a job for personal reasons is a bad idea. I worried so much about wanting to keep her alive that I forgot everything I’d learned in training. Bringing feelings into a job will never happen again.
“This is probably one of the worst decisions I’ll ever make, but yeah, we got a deal,” Captain says, and I nod.
We shake on it, and I head out before he can change his mind.
“But I want reports, and I want updates each time you come in contact with Kinkaid. Got it?” he shouts when I’m halfway out the door.
I’ve busted my ass for five years. It doesn’t sound like a long time, but fuck, Clint will make twenty-one felons I’ve put behind bars in that short time as an undercover officer. Despite what others may think, I’ve fucking earned a chance to prove how much better I can be. Now I have the opportunity. I’m going to find Jimmy Kincaid and I’m going to find that money. Nothing is going to get in my way.
My butt hurts. We split the drive into two days, but still, after four hours, I can’t wait to stretch my legs.
“Get your feet off the dash, please,” I say, flipping my blinker up, and Sam groans.
“Why?” he asks.
I’m not sure if this is a thing for eight-year-olds, but that one word, why, is his favorite question these days. Every single time without fail, I tell him why and then he explains why he thinks I’m wrong. I sure do miss the good ole days when he actually listened to me.
“Because it’s dangerous, and if we get in a wreck, you could be injured pretty bad.”
“We aren’t going to wreck because you drive like a grandma,” he says.
“Oh no!” I shout and fake like I’m going to swerve. He jerks upright in his seat and his feet hit the floor mat.
“That wasn’t funny, Charlie. You scared me,” he says the words, but he can’t even say them without laughing himself. “Fine. I get your point.”
“And think, I only had to tell you a hundred times.”
“It was like ten, don’t exaggerate,” he says.
I reach over and scruff up his hair, and he swats my arm away.
“Stop it,” he says.
I take advantage of the motion and move my hand to his side where I pinch playfully.
He cracks up and scoots away from me as far as his seatbelt will let him.
“How much longer?” he asks. “I can’t handle you picking on me anymore.”
“Don’t lie, you like it.”
“Really, Charlie? What kid likes being picked on by their aunt of all people.”
He rolls his eyes and so do I.
“Stop,” he says again.
“Stop,” I say.
“Ugh!” he says, but he’s still smiling.
“We’re here,” I say and pull into a vacant spot in the parking lot. Actually, I take up two since the U-Haul attached to my red Honda takes up one space on its own.
Adjusting to look at the building through the front window, we stare up at the white apartment complex that is, from this moment on, our new home. Wyoming has always been where I belong. Leaving was for the best at the time, yes, but it’s time we came back.
With a deep breath, I get out of my car. A light breeze hits my face, cooling the warm air from the late July sun. I don’t have to guess that the fresh cut grass smell is coming from the guy with a ball cap sitting on the mower one building over. Across the street is a park with a full playground, basketball court, and tennis area. There is an elementary school one block west from me. A mother, father, and daughter ride their bikes behind me on the sidewalk around the parking lot, and their laughter confirms everything I’m thinking. This was the right neighborhood to choose. It’s calm, it’s quiet, and most of all, it’s safe.
“What’s our number?” Sam asks.
“We are 325,” I say and lift the tailgate.
I grab a box and Sam starts to dig through the back, for what I have no clue. He was pretty picky about how he packed. I only went with it because it reminded me of my sister, and seeing him take after her is nice. I just hope that these are the only kind of traits he takes after.
Pulling the keys from my purse, I adjust the box and head for the stairs.
My parents were killed by a drunk driver when I was thirteen, leaving me under the custody of my sister, Kenzie, and Kenzie died at the hands of her boyfriend when I was just shy of seventeen. She left Sam to me, but since I was so young, we moved from Wyoming to Arizona to live with my grandmother. That’s where we’ve been the last five years. Grandma passed away two months ago, and Wyoming was where Kenzie wanted to raise Sam. The decision to move back wasn’t hard, but it does scare me. The idea of doing something my sister always wanted is comparable to that moment you take your bra off at the end of the day. I’m really looking forward to it. But there’s another side, the one that wants to leave the bra on because of the control I have with it. Leaving Wyoming meant people couldn’t harass Sam or me. I hope five years was long enough for them to forget we even exist.
I’m about to take the first set of stairs when a pair of men’s boxer briefs hit the top of my box. My head jerks back and I scrunch my nose. Setting the box down, I look up only to be hit in the face with more clothes.
“Asshole!” a woman screams as shirts and pants drop from above.
I jump to the side and then shake off the underwear from my box.
“Looks like someone is having a tough day,” a voice says next to me.
I pull my attention from the woman and find myself looking at the side profile of a very
attractive man with the most defined jaw I’ve ever seen. His scruff is shaved perfectly to display his features, and it looks really good on him.
Like really good. Maybe too good.
“Appears that way,” I say just as a white T-shirt covers my face.
“What do you think happened?” he asks.
“Well,” I say, shrugging off the shirt and propping the box on my hip. “She did call out the word cheater, so I’m going to go with ‘someone cheated’ for five hundred, please.”
A deep chuckle erupts from his throat, and I feel it all the way to my toes.
I twist at the same time he does and take notice of the slightly shaggy jet-black hair that peeks out from under a red ball cap, and this guy’s radiant white smile makes my lips itch to grin back. A pair of ocean-blue eyes meet my own gaze immediately. Not just any ocean blue, but off-the-coast-of-Mexico blue. Almost as if you were to look at them at the perfect angle, they would be clear. So I’ve seen in pictures, anyway. I was supposed to go to Mexico after high school graduation and finally see the ocean for the first time, but that never happened. Instead, Sam became my life.
“I’m Jett,” he says and offers me his hand. His head tilts and his eyes narrow as they hold steady with mine. “Have we met before?”
I shake my head. “No.”
A slow smile touches his lips. “No, I suppose not. I’d think I’d remember someone like you.”
Wow. Cue instant blush.
The door near the mad woman slams, pulling his attention. I take this time to let my gaze rake over his body. He’s got a solid build and is probably a good three inches on my own five-foot-six. Any smaller T-shirt and his biceps would definitely rip those sleeves up. I’ve always read about these types of muscular men before, but this is probably the first time I’ve actually seen and understood it. I mean, yeah, how creeped out would he be if I just reach out and touch him?
“That lady is crazy pissed off,” Sam says behind me.
“Hey, some opinions should be thought and not spoken,” I say to him. At least not spoken in front of people we don’t know.
“Yeah, but she started it when she shouted asshole from—”
“This one with you?” Jett asks. The fact he is entertained by Sam is evident in his laughter.
“Yes, this is Sam,” I say.
“Hi,” Sam says and shakes his hand.
“And you are?” Jett asks, his attention moving from my nephew to me. “I don’t think you had time to tell me before the crazy pissed lady disappeared.”
“See, everyone thinks she’s—” I pull Sam to my side and cover his mouth with my hand as I look at Jett. “I’m Charlie.”
Jett points to the U-Haul. “You two just move here?”
“Yeah, well, moved back anyway. We’ve been living in Arizona.”
“Need a hand?” he asks.
“No, I think we can manage, but thank you.”
“Uncle Jett!” A boy, who looks to be around Sam’s age, skips the last few steps and runs toward us. “Did you get it?” he asks, eyes wide and a big smile on his face.
“I might have,” Jett answers.
“Show me, please, please,” the boy begs, and his eyes grow even bigger.
I glance at Sam, who is watching the interaction just as closely as I am.
Jett pulls something out of a bag I hadn’t noticed he was holding, and not only is the boy I don’t know cheering, but so is Sam.
“Whoa! I’ve been wanting to play this game,” Sam says.
“Why don’t you two go play?” Jett says, looking to me.
“Oh, I’m not sure,” I say. I don’t even know these people. He’s hot, yeah, but I can’t just let Sam go play with strangers.
“This is my nephew, Max. Max, this is Charlie and her son, Sam.”
The boys exchange a quiet hello. People always assume Sam is my son. I don’t correct them because our situation isn’t ideal and sharing that Sam’s mother was murdered, leaving me as his guardian … well, people stutter and forget how to make eye contact, once you say it.
“Please.” Sam’s eyes widen. I want to let him, because his game station has been packed up for a few days, but unloading this truck alone will take me all afternoon.
“If you let him play, I’ll help you unload your car. and I’ll recruit help,” Jett offers.
“I don’t want to impose,” I say.
“You’re not,” he says. “Besides, I think my sister could use the distraction.”
He flashes me a grin, grabs the box out of my arms, and heads up the stairs.
The boys and I follow him till we reach the third floor. The angry woman dashes out of her apartment, which is directly across from mine, and shoves more items over the railing. Good Lord, how much more could this guy own? The inner courtyard is disappearing quickly from all his clothes. Jett just stands there like it’s nothing, while Sam follows Max inside her apartment.
“Oh, I—” I begin.
“Whit,” Jett says and the woman stops.
Jett nods my way. “This is your new neighbor. Her kid just went inside to play the new Madden game with Max, and I recruited us to help her unpack.”
“Hiya,” Whit says.
“Hi,” I say back.
You wouldn’t know by her beaming smile that she’s just been shouting profanities to no one in particular.
“I’m Whit,” she says, offering me her hand, and with the other she flips her black hair over her shoulder. It reaches to about the middle of her back. She’s got on a pair of black yoga pants and a red shirt. Standing barefoot, she looks to be my height. Her blue eyes are what catch my attention, though. They are almost as deep as my sister’s used to be.
“Charlie,” I say.
Jett’s phone rings right then, and he sets my box down and gives a one-sec finger before he disappears inside.
“Shall we?” Whit says and bops down the steps.
“You really don’t have to help me,” I say, following behind her.
“It’s nothing, really. I need something else to focus on.” She pauses on the steps and turns to look at me. “I’m not always this dramatic. Just so you know.”
She heads back down the steps.
What do I say to that?
“There aren’t any rules when a girl is cheated on, so please, by all means, be crazy,” is what I come up with.
Whit laughs. “I think I like you.”
“You don’t know me.”
“True. What’s your shoe size?” she asks, glancing at my cream wedges. Not exactly moving shoes, but they are strappy and go with any outfit—even the skinny blue jeans and orange V-neck I have on right now.
“Eight and a half,” I answer.
“Mine too! Mint or Oreo?”
“Both. Is that even a question?”
“Trick one. You passed. Yoga or CrossFit?”
“Yuck. Yoga. I feel like I just had a Step Brothers interview,” I tell her.
“You watch Step Brothers? Now I know you are meant to be my best friend.”
I read a meme once on Facebook about how weird it is when you meet someone and almost instantly you think, “yep this will be my friend.” I thought it was silly, but now I know exactly what it means. I don’t know if it’s because she clearly takes no shit or because she has that upbeat personality like my sister had, but I think Whit and I will make great friends.
“So which boxes do you want to move first?” Whit asks as we reach the back of my car and stare at my entire life jammed into the U-Haul.
“I mean, I’m not exactly eager to move any of them, sooo,” I say, and Whit begins to laugh at the same time she grabs a basket stuffed with blanket and sheets.
I laugh with her and pull out two rolling carry-ons.
“What are you two laughing at?” Jett’s asks, reaching past me to grab another box. His muscles tighten against his shirt, and I can’t look away.
“Yeah,” I say and look up.
His shit-eating grin says he caught me.
“Do you want help with that?” he asks, his eyes flashes to the luggage I’m half holding half letting slide out of the car.
“Got it,” I say and re-grip the damn thing.
I retreat up the stairs, prop up both suitcases just inside my entryway, and before I follow Jett and Whit back down the steps, I poke my head into her apartment.
“Sam, I’ll just be out here if you need …” My words trail off as I catch a glimpse of the breaking news banner at the bottom of the TV screen.
Jimmy Kincaid escaped custody and is on the run. The escapee is highly dangerous—
Max switches the screen to the video game before I can read the rest. I don’t need to. I saw more than enough.
The best friend of Sam’s father, the man who harassed Sam and me for weeks about stealing some stupid money that belongs to him, just escaped prison.
I flinch and bump against the door frames as I twist to face Jett. “Yeah?”
“Yes,” I say and march right past him to my car.
I sure as hell hope my answer is real, because if Jimmy finds out Sam and I are back, I’m not sure what he’d do. And I don’t want to find out.
Jimmy has never been the kind to understand and move on—he’s the type to get what he wants and kill if he doesn’t.