“Lay Low and Live” is what’s kept Bonnie James alive for three years. As resident fix-it girl for a tiny apartment complex in an even tinier Texas town, she makes enough money to pay the bills, but being on the run is lonely. Then Bonnie’s latest one-night stand turns out to be the bounty hunter sent to track her down, and more importantly, track down the sister she thought was dead.
Wynn Collier is in big trouble: He’s got to find what Bonnie’s hiding and deliver it to his latest client—On Time Or Else. Manhandling Bonnie violates his personal code, but Wynn is more than happy to use naughtier, more entertaining, forms of persuasion to get what he wants.
Living outside the law comes at a high price for the both of them…but so does settling down.
Wynn Collier pulled into Cielo, Texas, and eased down the main drag, taking note of various landmarks. Seventeen and a half months of his life, most of it spent on the road, retracing the footsteps of a woman who’d turned out to be more clever than he’d imagined, had brought him to this. The ass-end of Texas.
He laughed softly to himself and turned down the sound of Mötley Crüe coming from the SUV’s speakers.
Despite its name, Cielo was a long way from heaven. Some might even say it was pretty close to hell, being miles from anywhere and surrounded by desert. Hell indeed, even the nearest Wally World was an hour away.
Police station—four cops and the sheriff. Check.
Volunteer fire department—with less than three thousand residents, anything that caught on fire would probably be an inferno by the time the troops were rallied.
His dark blue SUV slid past the café, three gas stations, an assortment of tourist traps disguised as antique stores, and stores selling Western/Texas’y paraphernalia that women like his mother went nuts for. Not that the town had a bustling tourist trade; it was too far off the beaten path. Which explained why his quarry had chosen it.
Nearly eighteen months of hunting down Julie Burt had brought him here, to the end of nowhere.
Most of the time, Wynn’s job involved going after bad men, the dregs of society. Drug dealers, thieves, murderers, con men. People smart enough to know that when they played with fire, they risked getting burned. Not ordinary, middle-class people who believed crap like the Sopranos was purely a result of someone’s overactive imagination.
He didn’t kill people, much to his father’s disgust, but he knew how to get information out of them. That was his job.
Hunting down people like Julie Burt and her family had left a really bad taste in his mouth. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been in a position to tell his dad no. But he’d follow his dad’s instructions to the letter, find Julie Burt, and discover where her sister and brother-in-law were, get the information they had so Dad could get it back to the client.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
At Main and Elm he took a left and proceeded to drive the entire town, familiarizing himself with the streets and landmarks, like the poor dinky elementary school and just a few blocks over, the equally small library next to a non-descript city hall. The houses ranged from a few single-and double-wide trailers to World War II bungalows with deep porches to modern ranch houses. Nothing fancy, though, and nothing too new.
Cielo wasn’t that sort of town.
The world seemed to have passed Cielo, Texas, by. Everywhere he looked, everything seemed dead, lifeless, and flat but for the mountains shimmering in the distance. Just the type of town no self-respecting, normal person would live in; just the type of place someone could easily hide in.
But, oh, what a long way the slippery Ms. Burt had fallen. From designer suits, a Lexus, and selling commercial real estate to…a town practically burned to a charred husk by the searing heat.
He pulled his navy blue, ten-year-old Blazer, which was guaranteed to not stand out, onto the shoulder of the road with a crunch of tires on gravel. It came to a rest underneath a giant scrub oak whose oversized branches didn’t even move but did provide some shade.
The beige brick apartment building across the road practically faded into the landscape. The grass around the sign was the greenest thing he’d seen since he’d left downtown. These were the best Cielo had to offer. Hell, they were all Cielo had to offer. He’d laugh if he didn’t have so much riding on this job.
He saw neither hide nor hair of any humans as he pulled his digital camera from the bag on the seat beside him. He snapped pics of the four dust-covered vehicles in the parking lot then made the short drive back to his hotel.
At the Shadyside, Wynn stepped inside his darkened room, quickly closing himself off from the stifling heat, and dropped a two-inch thick file containing everything on Julie and her family onto the bed. He scrubbed a hand across his head and caught his reflection in the dresser’s mirror. He looked tired. A lot more tired and older than he really was. And if his mother could see him, she’d say he needed a haircut.
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