Authors: Dianna Love
Nick hated playing the messenger, especially taking bad news to Sabrina.
Sabrina hit her desk with her fist. “Margaux calls from a Columbian jungle and isn’t there when her extraction team arrives. Nobody has seen her or heard a word since?
Not a word
? She didn’t just disappear.”
“She might have. She didn’t mention Dragan, but there was evidence of two prisoners in the camp. They found two huts where someone had bled recently.”
“Someone has to know something on her or Dragan.”
Nick scratched his neck, then ran his hand over his two-day-old beard. He was saved from taking another verbal hit by Josh walking in.
Josh announced, “I got the final report from the extraction team. Two bodies found in one of the prison huts, which probably happened when Margaux and Dragan escaped. Three charred bodies and parts of at least one or two more were found near a fire or explosion that destroyed whatever they were using for a supply building. Two more bodies were found on the route between the camp and where Margaux told Nick she would be headed. The team located fresh vegetation wind damage that leads them to believe another helicopter landed closer in than we’d anticipated. I’m guessing whoever was picked up couldn’t make it any further.”
Nick interjected. “Probably Dragan’s team. Margaux sounded kind of sick when she called. If Dragan got his hands on the sat phone, he brought in his people. They might have been closer if they had a way to track him to a point. That would have given them a jump on our extraction team.”
Sabrina stood. “If the Banker is here and Dragan survived, then Dragan is probably trying to connect with the Banker again.”
“Right,” Josh agreed. “One more thing about the kidnapper’s camp in Columbia. They reported finding six more bodies staked in the middle of the camp. Based on their bodies being on top of debris from the fire, those men were tortured and gutted
“Sounds like a message,” Sabrina stated. “I want her found and brought in.”
“No parameters?” Nick clarified.
Sabrina and Josh exchanged a look.
Afraid of what I’ll do without guidelines?
Nick waited patiently.
“Do whatever it takes, but find her,” Sabrina said, ending the meeting.
Nick would do whatever he thought needed to be done, but now the safety was off on this mission.
The sun had bailed out early this morning, shoved aside by a front that couldn’t make up its mind whether to snow or rain.
Logan cut the engine on his ATV, stuck his helmet on the backseat and climbed off. Rain spit in his face, but after that ride the jacket he had on was heating up. He unzipped it, taking in the building covered in tin and patched with wood in some spots. A rusty sign claimed this was the home of Charlie’s Garage and Towing, the local auto repair for anyone who didn’t want to drive eighty miles to Idaho Springs, Colorado.
Logan had put a bounty out for information on the Banker, but only to a select number of resources. He had to hand it to the person called “Charlie” who chose this location. It was a decent place to meet. No one would question a strange vehicle coming here. He waited by the ATV, sure that he was being watched closely.
Charlie called out from the window, “Come on in. Got coffee.”
Logan smiled and waved. “No time.”
That was the signal Charlie wanted for identifying each other. The screen door opened and a lanky guy in blue overalls and steel-toed boots came walking out, in no hurry. He was wiping his hands on a rag as he approached. Frizzy brown hair sprang out from his head before he stuck a ballcap on it and his beard would give ZZ Top competition. He reminded Logan of an ungroomed Airedale Terrier.
When Charlie reached him, he squatted down and started tinkering with the ATV as he spoke. “Got a hit on feelers I put out. Bounty’s ten, right?”
Ten as in thousand. Logan crossed his arms and watched Charlie just like he would if something was wrong. “Right.”
Charlie lifted a spark plug and held it up, squinting at the part, then lowered his head back down and kept working.
Logan caught sight of a motorcycle parked on the side of the building with a license plate too muddy to read. It fit the grungy, broken down appearance of a rat bike.
But this person wasn’t from Podunk, Colorado and that bike could very likely do two hundred miles an hour. The real Charlie was probably sleeping in the garage, lightly sedated.
This Charlie acted perfectly at home in the cold weather as he ducked to look closer at the ATV engine. “Here’s what you’re paying for. You’re to give me a phone number that can be called.”
“My contact said it was your banker.” Charlie looked up. “I’m thinking you know which bank. Said he was still interested in what you had to offer, but time was of the essence. If you two didn’t work out the terms soon, he would no longer require anything from you.”
The Banker wouldn’t lift a finger to meet if he didn’t want Logan’s team—or—and this was the worse alternative—he was laying a serious trap for all of them. If that was the case, the Banker could have been behind Logan getting snatched in San Francisco, but the jungle interrogation had been clumsy and all about how to find the Banker.
If the Banker had been behind that, why not send in skilled mercs for the jungle operation since he had a reputation for hiring the best?
Logic said the Banker needed him. There were other mercs, but no one that Logan knew of who had the skill level of his team.
Still, this was a gamble.
Logan’s camp location could be triangulated through a sat phone call if it ran too long. The Banker wouldn’t be in the US now unless this was a significant job and it was happening soon, which was just confirmed by Charlie’s message.
Logan wiped rainwater off his face while he thought. “I’ll give you a number and a message to send back with it.”
“I need time to get the message through my channels.”
“Tell him to call at nine Pacific time tomorrow morning and to give me instructions on where to meet. He has one minute to talk and when I hang up, that number will no longer be active.”
The minute that call was finished, Logan would destroy the link. He had a sat phone he kept just for backup. Logan gave him the number.
Charlie’s furry head dipped with a nod. “Got it. Now about my money.”
“You have anything on the prints I sent out?”
“Then you’ll find your money inside the garage.” Nitro would have already entered, dropped the payment and would be watching to exit as soon as Logan drove off.
Pushing to his feet, Charlie grinned. “I’ve got news on the prints, but you may not like what it is.”
Logan steeled himself to hear that Margaux was a criminal. “That’s my problem.”
“Those prints don’t show up anywhere in an American database. That person doesn’t exist except for the FBI looking for woman reported to have left those prints in San Francisco at the scene of a terrorist attack on a nightclub.”
Logan was still trying to process that Margaux didn’t exist. Like a spook didn’t exist. “Anything else on her?”
“Only that I hear she’s got a banker, too. One she works for who’s looking for her.”
The pressure in Logan’s chest that had started to ease at finally making contact with the Banker just squeezed tight again.
He couldn’t wait to get his hands on Margaux. There would no rolling in the sheets this time. Had he been the biggest fool on earth to believe she was just some innocent woman back in Paris?
Or was he being an even bigger fool now to have left her in his camp and let her get to know his men?
He shoved on his helmet, zipped his jacket up and shoved the accelerator lever hard, spewing gravel behind him.
She wouldn’t try anything with Moose.
If she did, she’d regret it.
Margaux accelerated the ATV every time she had any stretch of decent path in front of her.
Key word being path.
How did Logan and his men come and go from the camp? There were no roads. Not a beaten down strip. She kept winding her way back and forth, reasoning that downhill would lead to some civilization. She kept her eyes peeled for a cabin, a trailer, a tent. Anyone who might have a way out of here or a cell phone.
Of course, the weather was too nasty to expect anyone out during the middle of the week.
She’d at least found out today was Wednesday by listening to Nitro and Moose talk outside her prisoner shack. But no one had mentioned what mountain range she’d been sleeping on.
First miserable heat and now frigid weather. She was lucky she’d found a pair of insulated overalls, gloves and a full face helmet or the sleet would be even worse to suffer.
After zigzagging her way down for three hours, she found a dirt road that looked more like a motocross trail and took that for a bit as long as it kept angling downhill.
Another ninety minutes later, she’d found a gravel road that went back uphill.
Someone had spent money to build that road.
Should she turn downhill and hunt a highway?
Or uphill and maybe find a residence with utilities and phone line?
She took a right and her ATV growled its way up, curving around a bend. This might be nothing more than a road to an abandoned hunting camp. Maybe it was a construction road for cutting wood. Did people cut trees for wood here?
Taking it easy on the tight curves, she pulled up to a plateaued area with a log cabin and waited to turn off her ATV in case a dog attacked. None came. She cut the engine and listened. No dog barking in the house or anyone looking out a window.
No poles with wires running.
She walked over to the porch and climbed the steps then looked in.
This was one of those nice log cabins built to look rustic but everything about the furnishings screamed money. She checked the windows for alarm wires. None. That meant this place was too far out to be reached in any reasonable time by law enforcement or a fire department.
The sky was losing light by the minute.
She hurried back down and drove the ATV to the side of the house, pointing it at an opening in the woods in case she had to make a fast getaway.
Picking the lock would be ideal, if she had a pick set and any real skill at that. Nope. She’d kept telling Nick she was going to take him up on his offer to teach her, but she’d put it off.
At the rear of the house there was another deck that spread out to accommodate a gas grill, outside fireplace and sauna. Snow was still around in pockets, but the sleet was beating it down. The house had a wood door with glass panes on the top half. Much less damage than breaking in the front door. She used a log off the stack next to the house to break one window and chip away the loose glass so she could open the deadbolt on the door.
Inside, she found the wall phone and ... yes, a dial tone.
She started to punch buttons then paused. What reception would she get from Sabrina? Or the team? Margaux had a feeling that Nick wouldn’t judge. He had his own set of rules and understood that she did, too.
But she had to inform Sabrina about the Banker being stateside.
Margaux squelched the nerves churning her stomach and punched the numbers for Nick’s secret number she figured was one of his burner phones.
He picked up on the second ring. “Yes?”
“It’s me.” She waited. “Nick?”
“Yes, but it was too close to call at one point. I am so ready to come back to civilization.”
“What happened in Colombia?”
“Is that where I was?”
Nick ground out a sigh. “Where are you now?”
“I found a vacation house with no one home. I’m not sure where it is yet.”
“You need a GPS mounted on your ass.”
“Very funny.” She had yanked a drawer open and bent down to pillage the contents. Every normal house had a drawer, usually in the kitchen, that was filled with expired coupons, notepads, pens and bingo and emergency numbers. “Looks like the area code is 303.”
“You’re in Colorado.”
“Give me a minute and I’ll find an address then Sabrina can—”
Margaux stopped digging and stood up. “What’s going on?”
“I’m at the office, but I haven’t told Sabrina you’re on my phone yet. She can’t shield you if you come back. You’re on the FBI’s wanted list.”
“How do they know who I am?” She leaned her forehead against the wood cabinets, too tired all of a sudden to think of her next move.
“There’s footage of you entering the Trophy Room voluntarily and witnesses rolling right and left on the owners. A bartender and one of the women on the floor said you approached Dragan Stoli’s bodyguard voluntarily and left the room to go upstairs with him voluntarily. But they received a tip that the bodyguard was really Dragan.”
True and true. Dammit. She pushed off from the cabinets, turned around and leaned a hip on the counter. “Wait a minute. How can they be sure it was me? I was incognito.”
“I know. I saw you.”
“I was there with Tanner when you walked in dressed as Violet. More of the team arrived after you went in. We were coming for you when all hell broke loose.”
“You couldn’t have gotten to me.” She swallowed. Last Wednesday seemed like such a long time ago. Eight days ago she’d thought she’d hit her lowest point when she’d busted an undercover DEA agent.
Nope. There was a basement level to her misery. “So how bad is it?”
“The Feds were all over the Trophy Room and that hotel so fast we barely got out of there. It’s like someone had them sitting, waiting to pounce. I saw the chopper lift a container that looked like a metal bodybag off a patio and disappear before anyone could have followed it.” Nick paused. “Knew you were gone and thought you were dead until you called, then you disappeared again. Sabrina got a friend in the military to send an extraction team in and they found the torched camp and bodies. But not you. What happened?”