It should’ve been simple.
Just your ordinary pick-and-drop boost, and we’d line our pockets with a cool hundred thousand dollars. Not bad for two hours’ worth of work, tops.
We just had to make sure we didn’t get our asses caught.
Drake pulled his bike up across the street from the swanky Pacific Acres Country Club. Riding bitch behind him, I spied the place. It was lit up like a Chinese lantern. Though it was after ten, too many spotlights cast a glow over the manicured green lawns and towering palm trees. Floor to ceiling windows on every wall let the light from inside spill out onto the fountains in front, and in back a stretch of golf course jutted out onto the cliffs reaching over the Pacific. Seemed like a place the prick would belong to. One Michael Anderson, prick immigration attorney, the kind of guy who claimed to be saving the poor and downtrodden of the world but was about as crooked as a question mark.
Cullen said Mafia, illegal gambling, and other shit, and Cullen was usually right about those things, which was why he was Cobras’ president. Besides, the squirrelly Anderson guy had just gone in, looking shifty as fuck, like he was up to no good. I never minded lifting shit off douchebags like that.
I pulled myself up off the seat behind Drake as he cut the engine. It was late on Friday night, and there was some hoity-toity party going on inside. I could hear jazz music and champagne glasses clinking every time the double doors in front swung open. Two not-too-bright, pimply-faced teenagers in red coats worked the valet stand, which meant mostly just playing with their cell phones.
The phrase Like taking candy from a baby came to mind.
We’d done operations like this a hundred times before, the six of us going through the motions now like cogs in a well-oiled machine. Cullen would spot our target—he had an eye for machines with the highest price tags. In Aveline Bay, just under two hours up the coast from Los Angeles, there were plenty of pretty rides to choose from. Then Hart would get us the GPS tracker, and Jetson would tag the car. Since he had that baby-faced, do-no-wrong look, he could easily get himself off if he got caught petting a sweet ride in broad daylight.
The rest of us?
Well, we weren’t exactly the type of guys women wanted to bring home to mom and dad. Hell, no.
It was usually up to me to make the grab.
Zain rolled up next to us, planting his heavy work boots on the ground as he watched our target. His faux hawk was all over the place from his ride down Route 1 with the wind whipping at him.
“You ready?” he asked, tightening his gloves around his wrists.
I grinned. “Born ready.”
I reached into the pocket of my canvas work shirt for the cigarette I’d tucked there, then thought I’d better save it for afterward, when I could savor it. I pulled out my phone and texted Hart. Got a visual on the target.
Bring it in, he texted back.
I nodded at Drake, silent understanding passing between us. With his muffler stuffed to quiet the exhaust, his trick for flying under the radar on operations like this, his thick forearms flexed as he grabbed his ape hangers and sped off down Route 1, his long dark hair flying like a flag after him, barely making a sound. If things went south, he’d be back to get me.
Then I nodded at Zain. “Nix . . .” he said.
Oh, fuck, he wasn’t getting cold feet on us now, was he? He was the newest member of the Cobras, and the only one of the guys I didn’t trust with my life. He’d only just joined us last month so his history was a big fucking question mark as far as I knew. But Cullen vouched for him, and that was big.
“Just as we rehearsed,” I mumbled, my voice a throaty whisper.
He nodded, setting his sights on the valet stand. Then he lifted off the seat, rubbing his hands together greedily.
Dodging traffic, I swerved my way across the street until I was standing near the parking garage, hidden by bushes. From there, I watched as Zain rolled his bike into their line of vision. Then he squatted in front of it, threw up his hands and said, “Fuck!”
The two valets looked up from their phones.
Zain straightened, rubbing his short dark beard. Then he rubbed the scruff at the back of his neck and hurled a long string of choice curses into the air before looking at the two valets. “Hey, you guys. Can I get a little help here?”
The two teens exchanged glances, and then one of them, the tall one with dark hair covering his eyes, loped into the street. “What’s the problem?”
Behind a concrete pillar at the parking garage, I played with the cigarette in my pocket as I watched them exchange words. Zain pointed convincingly at the wheel and shrugged like he hadn’t been born with motor oil in his veins, like all of us Cobras were. My eyes trailed over to the lone valet, who was hovering right under the key box and thumbing into his phone.
Come on kid, I thought. Vacate.
“Hey Frank, can you give us a hand here?” the tall one shouted to him.
Bingo. The kid looked up, clearly annoyed, and got to his feet. There was no polite way of saying this: He’d had too many McDonald’s Happy Meals as a kid. He lumbered across the street like he was dragging a load of bricks.
Thank you very much, I thought, and began to make my way down the sidewalk toward the Country club, walking as casually as possible toward the valet stand. I didn’t hurry, didn’t look around, simply moved as if I hadn’t a care in the world.
I ducked under the arched canvas overhang and, checking to make sure that Zain was still keeping the boys occupied, easily opened the box. I lifted the key from the hook marked #10 and sauntered back the way I’d come.
Fuck, this was easier than taking candy from a baby.
It was only when I was out of the sight of the valets that I picked up the pace. But just as I started to break into a run, a couple of hogs flew around the corner, coming out of the garage. They nearly ran me down, their weathered faces wearing superior expressions as they sped by. Assholes.
I knew even before I saw their colors—the flames on the back of their vests—that they were from Hell’s Fury, a smaller club in town. Talk about total pricks. If I hadn’t been in a hurry, I’d have given them the finger.
It was only when I’d broken into a run, heading for spot #10, that it hit me. What the fuck were Hell’s Fury assholes even doing here, in our backyard? We played on our side, them on theirs. That was the only way we didn’t end up killing each other.
But I didn’t have time to think about that.
When I got halfway up the incline I saw the target: A sleek, black Mercedes S Class AMG Sedan. If that kind of thing floated your boat, it was a jacked machine. I knew I’d enjoy giving it a little spin around town. I always did like the machines Cullen targeted—feisty, fun and fast as fuck, just how I liked my women as well.
I clicked the key fob and the lights flashed. Lifting the door handle, I slid into the buttery, black leather driver’s seat and wrapped my hands around the steering wheel. I pressed the button to start the ignition, and it purred to life, silent as a sleeping baby. It only made noise when I threw it into reverse, jolting out of the space. The tires screeched as I shifted into drive and gunned it, pressing hard on the accelerator.
I wheeled it out of the parking garage while the valets were still bent over Zain’s motorcycle. They didn’t even look up as my car screamed past them.
Laughing as I watched them in my rear-view mirror, I peeled down the street, loving my life and the power of this thing. Yeah, I could’ve probably taken it farther, but I needed to be at Cape Bay Bluff by midnight. We had to drop this thing off and quick.
That was how we’d stayed in business so long. We kept the merchandise moving. And right now, there were a couple of Russians who were going to pay us handsomely for this piece.
I raced onto the highway and called Hart. “I’m on my way.”
Right. He was tracking me through the GPS Jet had tagged the car with earlier that day. My warden, and the know-it-all of the group.
“Nix. No funny shit.”
He knew me. Once I was behind the wheel of one of these bad boys, I couldn’t resist stretching its legs. There was nothing like going 120 down the Pacific Coast Highway in a machine that was made for speed. “Who, me? I’m serious as a heart attack.”
I threw the phone onto the passenger seat and inhaled the new-car scent, appreciating the way the machine hugged the road during the curves.
Fuck, yes. I lived for this.
As I pressed hard on the accelerator, getting really ready to burn some gas, something thumped behind me. At first, I thought I’d run over some road kill, but when I looked in the rear-view mirror, the coast was clear. As I started to think it was all in my head, I heard the thump again. And again.
Fucking hell. What the hell was this? I hoped this car wasn’t a fucking lemon. Nice choice, Cullen. He usually vetted our targets carefully, but the order had come in from Vladimir last-minute, and he’d made this pick on the fly.
Now that I thought about it, the car seemed to be dragging in the back a little.
I grabbed the phone. “There’s something wrong with this fucking car,” I muttered once I had Hart back on.
“What do you mean?”
I exhaled, checking the side mirror again. Definitely some shit wrong with this thing. “It’s making a noise.”
“Check your ears, dude. Cullen says it’s new. It’s practically right off the lot.”
“I’m telling you.” My need for speed soured. I hung off the highway, taking the exit for the port.
Hart said into my ear, “Good boy.”
“Fuck you,” I ground out, smiling. Nobody talked to me like a fucking dog and got away with it...well, except for the other Cobras. I let my brothers slide.
I sailed into the warehouse where Hart, Cullen, and Jet were waiting. “Hey, Bro,” Jet said to me as I powered down the window. He ran an appreciative hand over the glossy surface of the car. “You really think there’s something wrong with this car? You need to get yourself checked.”
My baby brother, the only one related to me by blood, Jetson Nash. Four years my junior and every bit the wise-ass. I jumped out of the car and punched him in his thick arm. It barely made a dent. Must’ve been working out lately. When the fuck did he get guns thicker than mine?
Cullen looked around the deserted warehouse and said, “I don’t give a shit. That’s their problem. Let’s just get it on the container and collect our money.”
I grabbed the key fob from the cup holder, went around to the back of the car and popped the trunk.
“Turns out, assholes,” I said, crossing my arms triumphantly. “I was right.”
Under a dirty blue blanket, there was the definite shape of a bound and tied body, curled in a C.
“What. The. Fuck.” Cullen breathed out.
All four of us leaned forward. “Holy shit,” Hart said.
“We’ve got to dump it,” I said, reaching in and poking it. It sprang back, soft.
Cullen shook his head. “No. Like I said. It’s their problem. Leave it.”
We all stared at it. Just then, the thing twitched.
“He’s alive,” I said, pulling the blanket off the form. My hand sank into something sticky. Blood?
A second later, I realized I wasn’t right about everything. Because it wasn’t a he. Not with legs like that. And not with glossy blonde hair tumbling like cotton candy. To say nothing of restraints digging into baby-pale skin. She looked like an angel someone had knocked down to Earth.
All at once, her eyes focused on us and she began to moan, a moan that would have been a scream, if not for the gag shoved deep in her mouth.
She was terrified.
And injured. There was a gash on her forehead, and from it oozed a trickle of near-black blood.
“Shit. Shit. Holy shit,” Hart breathed over and over again. He’d never been the most eloquent of men. In fact, he’d always been more of a tech geek, despite the dozens of tattoos he’d accumulated over the years. He may have looked tough, but he was a nerd, through and through. “What do we do?”
Cullen raked his hands through his blond hair. “All right. Get her out of there.”
I frowned at him as the girl continued to make humming noises, her eyes rolling back in her head. “But then what?”
Cullen looked around, for once, at a loss for ideas. “I don’t . . .”
Taking action, I reached into my pocket and pulled out my penknife. Jet was standing there, staring, dumbfounded. Despite the guns, my kid brother was still a baby in so many ways. I nudged him. “Come on. Give me a hand.”
He reached down and lifted her arms so I could slide my blade under the restraint and set her hands free. Zip ties. They broke apart with one cut of the knife. She recoiled, balling her hands into fists, her body tense.
I reached for the cloth in her mouth and started to wrench it free, but it was too tight. She started to struggle, her eyes wild with fear.
“Listen,” I said to her calmly. “We’re not going to hurt you. But you can’t scream. Got it?”
She stopped struggling for a moment, her eyes never ceasing to be any less terrified. She didn’t nod, but I wasn’t just going to let her stay there, gagged.
Carefully, I slid the blade under the fabric near the back of her head and sliced it free. It came loose in my hands, soaked through with sweat and saliva.
And the girl? She began to scream.
“Fuck!” Cullen shouted, scanning the place as Drake and Zain pulled up, wondering what the fuck we were doing here, gathered around the trunk of the car instead of making the trade with Vladimir. “Shut her up.”
But it turned out, I didn’t have to. A second later, her eyes clouded over, her body crumpled, and she fainted, straight into my arms with a gentle sigh.
“She dead?” Jet asked.
“No, asshole. She fainted. Probably from the sight of you.” I lifted her up to my chest as one of her heels fell off. She weighed a little more than a sack of potatoes. The rest of the club was staring at me, so I said, “I know what to do. Get the car to the port. I’ll take care of her.”
Jetson reached down, got her shoe, and laid it on her chest. I started to walk out of the warehouse when Cullen clamped a hand over my arm. He didn’t say a word, but the look in his eyes was enough of a warning. Don’t do anything stupid.
And I intended not to. Right then, I meant to drop her outside a hospital and run. She wasn’t our problem, and I had more important things to do.
But the problem with me was, I didn’t always think with my head.
I’d like to say I was being a good guy and thinking with my heart, but I couldn’t even say I was doing that.