Bounty and Bait, страница 1часть #1 серии Bounty Hunters
Bounty and Bait
Bounty Hunters, Book One
After Glows Publishing
Bounty and Bait
© Copyright 2018 Tiffany Allee
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Published by Davis Raynes Publishing Group, LLC
dba After Glows Publishing
PO Box 224
Middleburg, FL 32050
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Cover by LKO Designs
Formatting by AG Design & Formatting
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All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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About the Author
Note from the Publisher
Bounty & Bait
Sophia Scott runs away from the city after watching her boyfriend murder a man. Ending up in a small town full of farmers and a single stoplight, she has finally started to settle in. Just as she stops looking over her shoulder, a bounty hunter finds her. Her false sense of security withers away, and Sophia makes the decision to stop hiding. She will never be safe until her ex is caught and put in prison.
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Nick Ward is a bounty hunter. All he wants is to catch the murderer who skipped bail and collect his money. And he’ll do whatever he has to in order to get his mark—even if that means using Sophia as bait. He is certain that she witnessed the murder, even if she won’t admit it. But solving crimes is no longer his problem—catching bail jumpers is.
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Sparks ignite as Nick and Sophia work together to lure out her ex—and soon find themselves wrapped up in each other as they continue the hunt. Nick realizes that he might be wrong about Sophia, and Sophia begins to see that maybe all men aren’t bad. With lies between them and her dangerous ex still on the streets, they will have to learn to trust each other if they want to put him behind bars—and have a chance at love.
Finding Sophia Scott hadn’t been difficult. She hadn’t even bothered to change her name. Of course, there were other ways to stay below the radar. She avoided the use of credit cards, debit cards, her social security card, and anything else that would leave a paper trail to her new address. If she worked, it was under the table for cash. If she hadn’t enrolled in the local college, and Alan, his business partner, hadn’t been such an expert at tracking through computers, Nick might not have found her. Especially since she hadn’t been charged with a crime.
But her ex-boyfriend definitely had.
She didn’t look like a gangster’s girlfriend. Blonde with almost pixie-like features, she was a far cry from what he'd expected. Sophia was gorgeous. Her body had curves in all the right places and her eyes pierced into his soul. But she gave the impression to be too delicate for Nick's usual tastes. He shook his head to rid himself of such thoughts. She was only a target that he was meant to acquire, nothing more.
The wind kicked up, bringing a breeze with the slight edge of fall with it, and the heavy scent of freshly cut grass. A couple more weeks and the woman wouldn't be wearing dainty dresses anymore. Another month and the cold winter would be nipping at her heels.
Nick frowned and folded the newspaper he'd used to partially block his features from Sophia. She was shopping at the farmer's market less than twenty feet away. He stretched his arms and then folded them behind his head, wishing she'd hurry it up already so he could get off the hard bench. Hiding from her was pointless; even if she were on guard for someone like him, it wouldn't make any difference. He was going to talk to Ms. Scott. And she would be coming back to the city with him.
Whether she’d run because she was as guilty as her ex of the murder he’d skipped bail on, or because she didn’t want to live in the same town as Darrell Ferry was none of his concern. He’d catch Ferry either way. Just as soon as he secured his bait.
She didn't even look like she watched for danger. Then again, why would she? There was probably no doubt in her mind that she was completely safe here in this small town where she'd built herself quite the bona fide life over the last year. Or a life that looked crime-free. He knew better.Tigers didn't change their stripes, and attractive features and wholesome image aside, Sophia was a tiger.
She’d moved to a town so tiny and far enough away from the city that no one would think to look for her here. Sophia was a city girl, born and raised. Who would look for her in a village full of farmers and a single traffic light? She spent twenty-four years in the same crime-ridden neighborhood. It went against everything most people would have done; for her to move away to a small town where she didn’t know a soul. It had certainly surprised Nick that she would go so far out of her comfort zone when it was her ex-boyfriend being charged with a crime, and she was clear for now.
Dress waving in the wind, she moved down an aisle filled with fruit, and then selected a single plum and peach. She placed them in her basket and then glanced in his direction. He looked down at his watch as if waiting for someone. She didn't drop her basket and run. Instead, she continued with her shopping. He grinned. A shame, really. It might have been fun to chase her.
Sophia had proven herself to be good at laying low. He had to give her that.
But a couple months ago, she’d registered for classes at the local community college. His company’s computer wizard, Alan, had dug her right up. If a person hit anywhere online, they couldn’t hide from the seemingly harmless man.
Nick pushed up from the bench and walked into the small farmer’s market, trailing behind her as she made her way through the stalls. She picked up a cantaloupe and sniffed one end. Her face brightened into a smile at the scent, and guilt touched him. He locked the emotion down with ruthless efficiency. Guilt was pointless, and in this case, misplaced.
Sophia Scott might look every bit the innocent young college student in her pretty blue dress that hit just above her knee, with her hair pulled back from her nearly makeup-free face in a loose chignon, but she wasn’t. At best, she was complicit in a series of crimes that had left at least one man dead.
At worst, she was an active participant in her ex-boyfriend’s crimes.
He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. Crimes weren't his problem anymore. Neither solving them nor bringing people to justice for them. Catching people who skipped out on bond was his business. And it ended there. He couldn't care less if Sophia was the harmless waif she appeared to be or a criminal mastermind.
For him, she was just a means to an end.
She was one he’d have to charm. Nick prided himself on reading people, one of the skills he’d gained as a cop and refined as a bounty hunter. And Soph
He could work with that.
She slipped some tomatoes into her basket and walked to the portable table that held a cash register. Smiling at the older woman behind the till Sophia handed her cash and took her change and receipt. For a likely criminal, she had a sweet smile.
He shook his head and followed her at a distance. She walked back toward her apartment, shooting only a single glance over her shoulder as she closed in on the building. She shoved the key in the building door and looked again in his direction. Their gazes locked, and something flashed in her expression. Fear?
He couldn’t tell. The emotion was gone too quickly, and then so was she, disappearing into the building and allowing the door to slam behind her. Probably reassuring herself that she was safe behind that locked door.
Nick rubbed the back of his neck and smirked. A door couldn’t keep him out, and that was something Sophia was about to learn.
Sophia turned the deadbolt with a shaking hand, then leaned against the door, taking in slow breaths. She was imagining things again. Imagining that someone was after her. Imagining that she was being followed.
She sighed and took her purchases to the tiny kitchen she'd made as homey as possible with her thrift store decorations. Was she ever going to quit seeing shadows in the night, or strangers following her during the day? Her state of mind had gotten better when she registered for classes at the local college, but she didn’t ever feel safe.
Determined to move forward with her life, she forced herself out of the apartment every day. Forced herself to go to the two classes she'd registered for. Forced herself to her job filing and cleaning in a local real estate office.
But still her past haunted her. Even as she made friends—well, friendly acquaintances, at least—she still felt tied to the old life she'd run away from, fleeing into the night. She still waited for her life to begin, unable to relax for fear that her past would catch up with her.
At least the man today had been real, not a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of her eye that turned out to be an old woman or an inanimate object. He'd looked like the kind of criminal that Darrell would have sent after her.
The man had a dangerous air, rough and hard. Not the typical type that showed up in that kind of small town. That's why she'd chosen to live here, because other than the occasional old farmer who drank too much, the town oozed quiet and calm. Positioned near the border and quite a hike from the interstate, few people had reason to come here. Rarely did a stranger cross its threshold.
She shook her head. Sure, the stranger looked like he started bar fights for fun, but that didn't mean he’d come for her. Paranoia was getting to her again, urging her to move on from this town, where she'd started a tenuous life.. If she moved on again, would she ever be able to stop? She only held her suspicion at bay with the thinnest of threads as it was.
A loud knock sounded, and she jumped, dropping her bag. A tomato spilled out, rolling to settle in front of the refrigerator. She leaned down and picked it up, mind roiling.
Was it the man from the street? What if he was here to hurt her? To take her? No. She wasn’t going to let this fear rule her life. Sophia took a deep breath to steel herself and walked to the door. She pushed onto her tippy toes and looked out the peephole.
Fear rolled through her in a wave, and she recoiled away from the door. Could she go out the window? No, she was on the third floor. Going out a window could hurt her, or even kill her.
But would the dangerous-looking man outside of her door do worse?
“Miss Scott,” a deep voice called from the other side of her door. “Please let me in. I’m here to help you.”
Help her? Yeah, right.
She eyed her burner phone. If she called the police, what would she tell them? That she'd witnessed a crime, but had been too chicken to come forward before? That instead she'd run away in the night like a criminal, and now the stranger at her door might be here to hurt her?
No. She couldn’t call the police. She wouldn’t be able to answer their questions without putting herself in even more danger.
“Miss Scott,” the voice called again, muffled by the door. “If I wanted to hurt you, I wouldn’t have knocked. Let me show you my identification.”
She grimaced. Was it worth the risk to take a glimpse through the peephole? There wasn’t much else she could do.
As silently as she could manage, she crept to the door.
“I’m a bounty hunter, Miss Scott. And I’m here to talk about your ex-boyfriend,” he said, voice lower than before. He knew she’d come to the door.
Uneasiness spiked through her. He was here about Darrell. Dammit.
“Trust me when I say you need my help. He’s going to find you soon. He may have people on the way here as we speak.”
She swallowed hard as he confirmed the worst of her suspicions. The room spun, and she leaned heavily on the door.
“Let me in. We need to talk.”
“Okay, show me your ID then,” she countered.
Without hesitation, he reached into his jacket pocket and produced a wallet. She almost stepped back from the door when he actually flashed ID. It took a second for her eyes to focus on the identification card. And it took her brain a longer moment to register that the man seemed to be who he said he was. The name matched, she saw that right away on the bounty hunter ID. It took a moment for his picture to come into focus, but when it did it seemed to match the man on the other side of her peephole.
Why not open the door and get this over with? She was screwed anyway, wasn't she? Darrell apparently knew where she lived, and as she'd long suspected, he was looking for her. Whether he wanted to silence her or drag her back home didn't really matter. She'd die either way. Quickly, or suffocating. Literally or figuratively. At the hands or in the life of a man she could no longer stand.
It was all her fault. Her fault for choosing to be with a man who seemed a little dangerous, because she was attracted to that bad boy edge. Her fault for ignoring the signs that his business dealings weren’t on the up and up.
But she’d needed so badly to not be the one in charge for a while, to not be the responsible one. Darrell had been happy to fill those shoes for her. And then some. Instead of responsible and take-charge, he’d taken over her life. Little by little, she disappeared. Her decisions disappeared. There was only him. What he wanted.
She bit her lip, and then took a deep breath. She was no wilting flower, and she needed to remember that. Not only had she survived Darrell, she’d made her own way in the world. Thrived. This man—whoever the hell he was—wasn’t going to scare her. Okay, who was she kidding? He might scare her, but no way in hell was she going to let him see that. She’d become an expert at hiding her true feelings over the years. No way was she going to let this guy know she was afraid.
Muttering a curse, she turned the deadbolt and opened the door.
The man was even taller than he'd appeared at a distance. At least six feet, which put him a head taller than her five-feet-five-inches. She wished she'd worn heels.
He didn't shove his way in. Instead, he waited for her to step back and motion for him to enter. When he did cross her threshold, he seemed to pour into the apartment, filling it beyond capacity as his gaze swept through the small space. Without another word, he walked through her apartment. Disappearing into her room for a long moment, then even going so far as to open the shower curtain in her bathroom. It took every bit of her self-control not to follow him while he searched. She had nothing to hide, and refused to give him the satisfaction of hovering while he invaded her space.
“Expecting an ambush?” she asked, unable to keep the sarcasm out of her tone. She shouldn’t antagonize him. Men like that didn’t tolerate jokes at their expense well, in her experience. But she couldn’t seem to help herself.
A slight grin touched his face,
“You never know.”
She snorted. “Well, if you're done looking around…” She gestured to the tiny two-chair table that sat between her living room and kitchen. It wasn't a real dining area per se, but since she hadn't found a couch cheap enough for her budget yet, it fit quite comfortably.
He sat, and she grabbed the pile of library books off of the table and took them into the kitchen. Her panic had dissipated somewhat, probably because he hadn’t attacked her the moment she unlocked the door, but her hands still shook a bit.
“Do you want something to drink?” she asked from the kitchen.
“What do you have?”
“Water or orange juice.”
A sound that might have been disgust came from him. “No thanks.”
“What? You’re too good for orange juice?” she asked.
“Not interested in being poisoned today.”
Then why did he even ask what she had? Exasperation made her tempted to clobber the stranger in her living room.
“No television,” he noted when she reemerged.
“I prefer books,” she said. And that was true. Not that she wouldn’t have appreciated a television, too, but it was another thing she hadn’t quite had the budget for just yet.