Nothing will stop Claire Walker from finding her father's killer. But a shy Southern librarian is no match for a murderer, and as a novice bounty hunter, she's quickly cornered. Fugitive recovery specialist Adam Knight arrives just in time to rescue Claire. But now she owes her life to the man who once broke her heart. With the killer still tracking Claire, Adam decides she needs a guardianand he's the best man for the job. Set on seeing justice served, Claire and Adam must join forces and try to outrun a desperado and his deadly traps.
Bounty Hunters: Finding justice one fugitive at a time
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There hadn't been any movement inside the cabin for the past hour. Claire Walker pulled her coat tighter to ward off the chill of the October night and peered around the tree trunk where she'd decided to conduct her surveillance of the house.
For perhaps the tenth time, she asked herself what was she thinking. Standing in the woods watching a house was the last thing her fellow teachers at Nashville's Hope Academy would have expected from their shy librarian with the nonexistent social life. But sometimes circumstances call for drastic actions.
Her teeth chattered, and she thought of the big fireplace in the den at her father's house back in Memphis and wished she was there curled up in her favorite blanket in front of a roaring fire. She took a deep breath and shook her head. Wishing had nothing to do with it, however. She was on a mission, and she was determined to carry it out.
She glanced down at the pistol she'd purchased a month ago and tightened her grip on it. Hopefully, she'd be able to remember everything the instructor at the firing range had told her if she had to use the gun. Just the thought of aiming the gun and pulling the trigger made her nauseous, but she could do it if need be. She'd made up her mindshe would do whatever it took to bring in the fugitives who'd skipped bond, leaving her father's bail bond business with serious financial problems. Peter Willis would be the first. And for a good reason. When Peter jumped bail, her father had tracked him down, but Peter murdered him in cold blood.
Her heart pricked, and she blinked back tears. Her father didn't deserve to die like that, and she intended to see Peter Willis brought to justice. After Peter, she'd tackle the next one on the list, then the next. Then she'd decide what she wanted to do. Go back to the cocooned life she'd built for herself in Nashville or take on her father's bail bond business in Memphis and the mountain of debt he'd left behind.
She frowned and shook the thought from her head. This wasn't the time to be thinking about her options. All she needed to do at the moment was to concentrate on capturing Peter Willis, and now she had him. Right inside that cabin. The only problem was she had no idea how she was going to apprehend him.
It had all seemed so simple when she'd mapped out her plans at home. All that had gone up in smoke earlier tonight when another man arrived at the remote cabin before she could take Peter into custody.
Now, instead of a single two-hundred-pound man, she had two to contend with. There was no way she could take both of them by herself. If she could get Peter by himself, she might be able to get him out of there before the other one knew what had happened. She had to be patient and wait for the right time.
To her left a twig snapped, and she jerked to attention. Was someone else in the forest with her? Her heart pounded, and her stomach roiled at the thought that one of the men had slipped from the cabin without her seeing him or that another friend was about to join them. She froze in place and listened, but she heard nothing else.
After a moment she relaxed and directed her attention back to the cabin. There had to be something she could do. But what?
The thought had barely entered her mind when the front door opened, and Peter strolled around the side of the house as if he didn't have a care in the world. He stopped at his car, unlocked the trunk and pulled the lid up. He bent over to peer inside, and Claire knew it was time to make her move.
She bolted from behind the tree and covered the distance between them as quietly as possible. Then she pressed her gun against his back. "Hands in the air, Willis!"
"Wh-what is this?" he said as he raised his hands.
She took a step back but kept the gun trained on him. "It's time to go back to jail. Now turn around."
The light coming from the room inside the cabin lit his face as he turned, and he frowned. "Who are you and what do you want?"
"I'm Claire Walker, the new owner of Walker's Bail Bonds since you murdered my father. I've come to take you back to answer for the crime of murdering an employee of the Second Citizens Bank and to have you charged with killing my father."
A smug smile pulled at his mouth. "Really? You think you can do all that?"
"I know I can. Besides the two murders, I know my father found out about some other illegal activities of yours, and I intend to find out what they are."
An amused expression lit his face, and he shook his head. "You'd better be careful. What your father found out got him killed."
She pulled a pair of handcuffs from her jacket and took a step toward him. "Turn around and put your hands behind your back," she ordered.
An amused smirk crossed his face. "I don't have any intention of going anywhere with you."
She took a step closer. Her hand shook, and she took a deep breath to calm her nerves. "Oh, yes, you'll go with me. On your own two feet or dragged by me after I shoot you. Your choice."
He threw back his head and laughed out loud. "Shoot me? You don't have it in you to shoot me. Besides, the gunshot would alert my friend inside, and you'd be dead before you could get out of this yard."
She tightened her grip on the gun to hide how her hands were shaking and cleared her throat. "You don't scare me."
He took a step toward her and scowled. "You'd better be scared because I don't have any intention of going anywhere with you."
She backed up a step and inhaled a deep breath.
Suddenly she felt the nudge of something against her back. She glanced around to see the man who'd arrived earlier standing behind her with a gun pressed between her shoulders.
Claire whirled around, but the man was quicker. He grabbed her pistol, wrenched it from her hand and hit her across the face with his gun. The handcuffs flew out of her hand as she fell to the ground. She lay there with her head pounding as if a freight train were passing through it. Before she could catch her breath, Peter reached down, kicked the handcuffs and her gun away, and hauled her to her feet. A sharp pain shot up her leg from her ankle, and she groaned.
The man holding the gun glanced at Peter. "Who is she?"
"Her name is Claire Walker," Peter said. "She's the daughter of that old bail bondsman we took care of a few weeks ago."
Claire twisted from the man's grip and tried to fight back the tears at hearing her father referred to in that way, but it was no use. Before she realized what she'd done, she turned to Peter and slapped him across the face. "How dare you talk like that about my father? He was a good man, and he gave you a chance to stay out of jail until your court date. And how did you repay him? You killed him! I intend to see you spend the rest of your life in jail."
Peter rubbed his cheek where she'd hit him and doubled up his fist. Claire cringed from the blow she knew was about to come. He pulled his arm back, and then lowered it as he laughed. "I don't think you'll talk so big without your gun," he taunted. "Now I want you to answer some questions for me."
Claire tried to inch away from him, but he reached out and grabbed her by the arm. "Oh, like who else knows you were coming here tonight?"
She tried to pry his fingers from her arm with her free hand, but it was no use. She glared at him. "I don't have to tell you anything."
The two men looked at each other, and Peter tightened his grip. "I'll ask you one more time. Who else have you told about your suspicions that I had something to do with your father's death?"
Claire ignored the pain shooting up her arm and took a deep breath. "Let go of me."
Peter smiled and relaxed his grip. "Well, it seems like you're not going to cooperate. I think we can handle that okay." He glanced at his partner. "I think it's time for our visitor to disappear."
Fear curled in Claire's stomach, and she darted a glance at each of the men. "Wh-what do you mean?"
The man holding the gun laughed. "It means we're the only two leaving here. The only thing that remains to be decided is where that leaves you."
Claire swallowed the bile that poured into her mouth and tried to speak. "What are you going to do?"
Peter shrugged and glanced at the other man. "Kill her. We can't let her run to the police."
Claire tried again to pull free from Peter's hold, but she couldn't. "No, don't do that. Just let me go, and I won't tell anyone I found you," Claire screamed.
Peter released her with a shove. "Oh, really?" he said. "Somehow I don't think I can believe you."
The man holding the gun aimed at her again, but before he could fire, a bullet hit the edge of the roof and ricocheted off a shingle. He spun around and fired into the forest in the direction the bullet had come from. Two more shots kicked up dirt at his feet. Stunned, Claire dropped to the ground and crawled out of the line of fire toward the far side of Peter Willis's car.
Peter climbed into his car and called over his shoulder "Let's get out of here!"
"What about her?"
"Leave her. We've got to go."
Another bullet whizzed past the car. The man who'd been about to shoot Claire ducked and ran toward his car parked in front of the cabin. Desperate to stop them, Claire tried to push to her feet, but a sharp pain in her ankle shot up her leg. All she could do was groan and sink back to the ground. She landed flat on her stomach.
Both cars roared out of the yard, and Claire watched helplessly from her prone position as the taillights disappeared in the darkness. She pounded her fists into the ground. "No!"
She heard running footsteps, and then someone crashed out of the forest and stopped next to her. "Are you all right?" She could hear concern in the man's question.
Claire flattened her palms on the ground and tried to sit up. "II think so. Thanks to you."
"Let me help you." He leaned down, gripped her arm and helped her sit up.
"Thank you again," she said. "If it hadn't been for you " The words froze in her throat, and she stared up at the last person in the world she would have expected to meet outside a cabin in rural Mississippi.
"Adam? What are you doing here?"
Adam Knight released Claire, blinked and then shook his head. An angry growl came from his throat, and he bent over her until their noses almost touched. "Me? I think the question is what are you doing here?"
Claire scooted a few inches away and propped her hands on her hips. "I was trying to bring Peter Willis back to Memphis. He killed my father."
Adam's eyes grew large. "What?"
"You heard me. My father posted his bail, Willis left town and my dad went after him. Then Willis killed him. Now, what about you?"
"I was after the other guy, James Lester. The company that posted his bond hired the Knight Agency to bring him in after he jumped bail on an attempted murder charge."
"Well, your guy got away, too."
"I know that, Claire, but I still don't understand why you thought you could bring a guy like Peter Willis in by yourself. If you needed help, why didn't you call me?"
Claire sniffed and shook her head. "As if I'd ever ask you for anything, Mister Big-Time Bounty Hunter. Besides, I couldn't afford your fees."
Adam turned his back on Claire, raked his hand through his hair and muttered under his breath before he faced her again. "Claire, you've been my sister's best friend since middle school, you practically grew up at our house and you know my family owns the biggest fugitive recovery group in Memphis. We wouldn't have charged you anything. Why didn't you come to us?"
Claire doubled her fists and pounded them against the ground. "Because I didn't want to see you, that's why."
He inhaled a deep breath and attempted to control the anger rising inside him. "You didn't want to see me? Then what about Jessica? You could have called her. She would have helped you."
"Because I knew Jessica was busy on another case. Besides, this is my problem. I can take care of it by myself."
He chuckled and shook his head. "Like you did tonight?"
She pounded the ground again with her fists. "Oh, that remark is so like you. You never miss an opportunity to let me know what your opinion is of me."
He glared down at her. "So we're back to that again. I'm sorry I caused you problems years ago, but I only wanted to save you a boatload of grief. That has nothing to do with what happened tonight. Your pride almost got you killed."
"It wasn't pride. It's just that I don't like to be reminded of what a fool I was to think I saw something in you that wasn't there."
He gave a short gasp and swallowed hard. "I'm sorry you feel that way. Contrary to what you think, I've always admired you a lot. But I don't see any reason for us to be discussing what happened between us years ago. Don't you understand what I just said? You were almost killed tonight. If I hadn't been following James, they would have shot you without giving it a second thought."
She bit down on her lip and sighed. "I know, and I do appreciate your help. It's just that everything has been so difficult since my dad died. I don't know what I'm going to do."
"I'm sorry." He wanted to say more, but he knew his sympathy was the last thing in the world she wanted at this this moment. Instead he held out his hand to her. "We need to get out of here. Let me help you up."
She hesitated a moment before she reached for his hand. With a groan she pushed to her feet. He held on to her for a moment. "Can you stand on your own?"
She nodded. "I think so."
Adam released her hand, and she took a tentative step. Then a low moan escaped her throat, and she lurched sideways. She clawed at the air in an effort to regain her balance, but it was no use. She toppled straight into Adam's arms.
It happened so quickly Adam didn't have a chance to react. One moment he was yelling at Claire for taking on a job she obviously wasn't qualified for, and the next he had scooped her up into his arms. He gazed down into her face and saw her bite down on her lip.
"Are you in pain?" She nodded but didn't say anything. He stood there a moment, trying to decide what to do, and then she shivered. "Are you cold?"
He turned and walked around the cabin to the front door. It still stood open. He carried Claire into the house, kicked the door closed behind them and looked around. A fire warmed the room, and a couch faced the fireplace. He set her on the sofa and knelt in front of her.
"Let me take a look at that ankle."
She flinched from his touch as he began to pull her boot off. "No, really. I'll be okay. I just need to get home."
He stared up at her. "Why do you always have to be so independent? You may need to go to the hospital. I need to see what your ankle looks like."
She exhaled and leaned back against the cushions. "Then do it. I don't think I'm in any condition to fight you right now."
He tried to hide the smirk that pulled at his lips. "It's good to see you can be sensible sometimes."
Adam slipped her boot and sock off her foot. He frowned and sucked in his breath at the sight of how swollen the ankle was. He touched it lightly, and she groaned. "That hurt."
He sat back on his heels and stared for a moment before he stood up. "I'm sorry. I think we need to get you to a hospital."