Badge of Honor Series
Most people run from things that go bump in the night. Not headstrong U.S. Marshal Makala Madigan, she runs toward them. It’s the adrenaline rush when she can capture an escaped serial killer and bring him to justice that keeps her living on the edge.
Even the threats on her life don’t bother her. Very few get under her skin. Until her team brings in James Ingram. He has an uncanny way of finding a woman’s vulnerability, and then torturing her. That case left her with a sour taste in her mouth. Makala knows when she needs a break. Maybe she’s ready for a straight up fugitive and not someone who tortures and kills just because they’re a sick bastard.
So she heads to South Dakota to bring in a fugitive on the run, but quickly discovers just how much Sheriff Gage Dawson doesn’t want her on this case. When she learns the sheriff and the fugitive are cousins, she wonders if Gage will help, or hinder her efforts.
Right now, she has no choice but to use him as her tracker. He knows the Black Hills better than most. But after they go remote into the wilderness, will Gage honor the badge he wears, or will he help his cousin make good his escape?
When small town sheriff, Gage Dawson’s cousin is sent to prison for a crime Gage is sure he didn’t commit, Gage knows he’s the only one who can right the wrong that’s been done. But before he can help him, Johnny escapes, and a U.S. Marshall is left fighting for his life. Even Gage starts to question his cousin’s motives.
Johnny will be headed home, and it’s up to Gage to bring him in without blood being shed. Except it’s out of his hands when they send a U.S. Marshal to bring Johnny to justice. When he gets his first look at Makala, sparks fly. Gage knows he might be in even bigger trouble as they cross into forbidden territory.
Gage and Makala discover sometimes you can’t change the past, but will it cost one of them their life?
If the guy didn’t show pretty damn fast Makala, Mac for short, was going to die of lung cancer. She could barely breathe. The skid row bar had a dense gray fog hanging low from the ceiling that had her eyes watering.
And the smell! It was the godawful stench of unwashed bodies, which she was pretty sure was courtesy of the two worn-out hookers sitting just down from her, combined with the stale cigarette smoke and rotgut whiskey. For three days she’d been hanging out in this dive. Three damn days and still nothing. She was not a patient person. She tried to be, but it just wasn’t happening.
She could tell by the way the bartender looked at her, he was starting to get suspicious that she was more than a hooker wearing a platinum blonde wig, chipped ruby-red fingernail polish, and a skimpy red dress. He might be young, but he wasn’t stupid. You couldn’t be if you wanted to work in a place like this and stay alive.
Nope, if her guy didn’t show today, she’d have to do something different or blow her cover. She slouched over her bottle of flat, warm beer as she sat on the barstool and casually watched the door.
There weren’t many customers in the dimly lit bar tonight, so it wouldn't be difficult to know when someone new entered. There were the two real hookers several bar stools down nursing their watered-down whiskeys. Of the fifteen or so plain brown tables in the bar, her partner was at one of them, also pretending to drink his bottle of beer.
An older couple sat at a table not far away. It was easy to see the woman didn’t want to be there, but her husband was chugging down his fourth beer in less than an hour and didn’t look as if he would be ready to leave any time soon.
Mac knew the woman’s type. Her husband would walk all over her until she got enough sense to kick his sorry ass out. They usually changed their tune after that. At least, for a little while. Until then, they'd keep on taking.
Her gaze continued around the bar. Four construction workers who looked as if they’d just gotten off work were seated at another table with a pitcher of beer sitting in the middle. They were the loudest bunch. Just blowing off steam, laughing, and arguing about a football game.
Then there was the guy in the suit. At first, she'd thought he might be their man when he'd wandered in, but quickly dismissed that idea. He was too short, and he had a paunch.
From the corner of her eye, she saw he was getting to his feet. He bumped the table and had to make a grab for his glass. Some of the liquid sloshed over the side. He grimaced and quickly pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, hastily wiping his sleeve. Once he was satisfied, he stuffed the handkerchief back into his suit pocket. He took a step, then pulled the handkerchief back out and neatly folded it before returning it to his pocket.
Great, he was coming toward her with an, I’m-looking-for-cheap-sex, gleam in his eyes. The guy wasn’t ugly or anything, except he wore a wedding ring on his finger that he’d apparently forgotten to remove. Not that it mattered. You didn’t go looking for a date in a skid row bar.
She quickly sized him up. Wrinkled suit, crooked tie, clean fingernails. Desk job more than likely. His wife probably worked, and they didn’t have a lot of money. She figured he sent his suits out to the cleaner, but he wore them more than once to save money.
He’d already cleared his throat a couple of times. The nervous type. As if to prove her point, he reached up and tugged at his collar. First time to hire a hooker, maybe?
She continued to study him. His wife was probably tired by the time she got off work, and then she'd have to take the roast out of the slow cooker and put a few sides together. After dinner, she'd clean the kitchen because he'd brought work home from the office, and it had to be done tonight. No time for sex. Besides, by the time he came to bed, she was too damn tired.
She mentally shook her head. She’d been on this stakeout way too long. Her mind was going off in every direction.
This guy was definitely not the man Mac was waiting for, though. Yep, this one was trolling and thought he'd found what he was looking for because he stopped beside the stool she was sitting on, a stupid grin on his face. She supposed he thought it made him look sexy. The look failed on all counts.
“Can I buy you a drink?” he said as he leaned in closer. His try for a husky voice came out sounding froggy. It would take more than a kiss to turn this guy into a prince.
She slowly let her gaze drift over him. He tugged at his suit jacket this time. “I don’t do blow jobs,” she said with a bored tone. “But if you’ve got fifty bucks and a motel room, I’m up for a quick fuck.”
At first, he seemed taken aback by her bluntness. After a couple of seconds passed, he frowned. “Fifty? Isn’t that a little high?”
“Nah, half price since I got HIV, but you should be okay if you wear a condom.”
His face paled, and he stumbled back a step. “Uh…never mind.” He hurried back to his table and downed the rest of his drink before he started contemplating the two real hookers.
Men could be such idiots sometimes. She shook her head and went back to cradling her beer.
Her earbud cackled.
“You should’ve haggled with him. I bet you could’ve got fifty. It’s not like the government pays U.S. Marshals much.”
Haha, very funny. Ryan and Emily were in the van outside. Emily might occasionally act like she was Mac’s mother, even though Emily was only thirty-five, but she could wisecrack with the best of them.
Emily was the best map person around. Better than a GPS. Mac had known her for two years now. She was always on a diet, even though she only carried an extra twenty pounds and looked great to Mac. Her husband didn't seem to care. When they were together, he only had eyes for her. They adored each other.
Mac glanced over her shoulder and saw Landry cough, then quickly down his head, but she saw his shoulders shaking as he tried not to laugh. Her team was a riot.
Landry was pure Cajun from deep in the Louisiana bayous. He was a lady’s man, but damned tough. He’d told her once that he used to wrestle alligators, or cocodril, as he called them. She believed him. He’d once showed her an ugly looking scar on his arm from where an alligator had gotten too close. That was when he decided he would go into law enforcement. Much easier taking down a perp, he said. She wasn’t so sure about that.
Ryan, who was in the van with Emily, was the quiet one in the group. He’d rather stay in the background and do all the computer stuff that confused the hell out of the rest of them, than do the hands-on stuff. The funny thing was, he'd dropped out of college, but the guy had a crazy high IQ. He was the youngest in their group, only twenty-five. Four years younger than her.
She’d get back at them for cracking jokes at her expense, she thought, then smiled because she loved each one of them. Still, next stakeout, she might stay in the van and put them on point.
“Company,” Emily said, her voice a little more high-pitched than it had been a moment ago. “Looks like our guy. There's something scary about him. I can't put my finger on it. Remember, you're dealing with a serial killer. Don’t take any chances.”
Her? Take chances? When had she ever taken chances? Okay, maybe a few times. She was still alive, though, wasn’t she?
The door opened. Makala casually glanced toward it. She could feel every beat of her heart, the sudden pounding in her chest. Emily was right. There was something different about this guy.
Technically, he looked as if he had everything going for him. He was five feet, eleven inches, and wore a casual blue shirt, black pants, and black shoes. His sandy-blond hair had been recently cut. His fingernails were trimmed and clean. But something was off.
He glanced toward the two hookers at the end of the bar, as if he was trying to decide whether to go down to them or not. Landry suddenly came to his feet and wandered over to them, striking up a conversation.
The guy frowned before he turned back toward the bar. Their gazes met briefly. His cold gray eyes raked over her, calculating. His gaze returned to her, his eyes widened just a fraction. Mac knew she had just become his next target. A cold chill worked its way down her body. For a brief moment, she wondered why she’d become a U.S. Marshal.
The bartender looked up as the man approached. He immediately took his measure and decided he was a man you didn’t want to piss off.
And he wasn’t. James Ingram, AKA Jimmy the Knife, because he liked to slice and dice his victims. He also bragged that no one could take him down or keep him locked up. On the last, he’d been right. Jimmy escaped from prison nearly a month ago. And he’d been busy. He preyed on young hookers.
She remembered his last victim had been barely twenty. Grace had come to the city to escape her boring country life. They found her body in the desert with his signature initials, JI, carved on her chest. Makala had stared at the pictures. So young. Her expression in death wild and full of fear.
Yeah, she knew exactly why she’d become a marshal.
Adrenaline began to flow through her veins. She’d been waiting for him. She was ninety-eight percent positive this was their man.
Mac quickly tamped down her excitement. Now was not the time to screw this up. She took a slow, deep breath and forced herself to relax. She had to make sure. James had darker hair, coal-black in fact, but that didn't mean anything. He could've had it dyed. This guy was a little leaner, but he'd escaped over a month ago. She could see how easily one could lose weight when they were on the run.
“What’ll you have?” the bartender asked.
“Beer,” he said. “In a bottle.”
The bartender pulled a bottle, twisted the cap, then handed it to him. The guy dropped a couple of bills on the counter, then swigged down a long drink. “Now that hit the spot,” he said. “Thank goodness the weekend is right around the corner,” he told the bartender with a fake smile.
She swiveled on her stool toward him and cocked an eyebrow. “You don’t look as if you work around here.”
He faced Makala, his gaze moving slowly over her. “Neither do you.”
She kept her expression neutral. On the inside, her heart had started pounding again. The guy was smart, but she already knew that. She smiled and took a drink of beer. "I don't normally work in this area." She glanced around, her eyes turning sad. "But belong here? Maybe, maybe not. I grew up not far from here. My mom still lives in the apartment building a few blocks over. I used to come down to this bar and hang out on Saturday nights. The guy who used to own it sold out a few years ago. Things change." She sighed. "Anyway, I came to see my mom. Thought I'd stop in for old time's sake before going uptown. Don't know why. All I ever see is poverty when I come back home."
He reached over and took her hand. It was all she could do not to pull away. His hand was cold and clammy, as if he was dead. On the inside, she thought he probably was.
“You’ve had a hard life. I can see the pain still inside you, like demons that won’t leave.”
For a moment, she felt as if he could see deep inside her soul. He was right about her having demons. God, she could understand how those other women fell for his soft-spoken words and the kindness in his voice. But as soon as he had them where he wanted them, he became the devil in human form.
“I do,” she said, her lip trembling. “I guess we all have things we bury deep inside us.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
"I don't even know your name, and I kind of am still working." She nibbled her bottom lip, as if undecided. If he wasn't the right guy, she could still get him for solicitation.
“Don’t worry. Does a hundred sound okay for all night?” He smiled. “And you can call me James. James Ingram.”
This was her man. He never changed his name. Not the smartest move. She’d just needed to confirm it since a few things had been altered. Not that she hadn’t already guessed. She’d seen his pictures and even watched an interrogation video.
“They call me Mac, for short,” she told him. “Otherwise, U.S. Marshal Makala Madigan and you’re under arrest.”
His eyes narrowed, his gaze quickly scanning the bar. Landry was already walking toward them.
His guarded stance changed, and he studied her again. "You have eyes just like her."
For a moment, she was startled by his words. In that split second, he pulled a switchblade from his pocket and pushed the button to open it. The gleam of the blade caught in the overhead light.
In one swift motion, she hooked her heel on the footrest of the barstool and launched herself upward, fist out, and landed a hard blow to his throat. He dropped the knife and began to cough and sputter, but still swung a fist toward her. She ducked at the same time Landry came up behind her and grabbed one of James’ arms, twisting it behind him. James lost his balance and fell sideways off the stool.
She quickly moved out of the way. As soon as he landed on his face with a hard thud and a loud grunt, she grabbed his other arm and twisted it behind him. She and Landry wasted no time getting him handcuffed while he was still stunned. They weren’t about to take any chances with this one.
“Read him his rights,” she said as she straightened. Her wig was askew, so she tossed it onto the barstool and brushed her hands through her shoulder-length, dark hair.
The bar had gone deathly quiet. The two hookers downed their heads. Probably had warrants, but she didn’t mess with the nickel and dime stuff. The guy in the suit who’d approached her earlier was already slinking quickly out of the bar. The guys talking football had stopped and were staring at her with open mouths.
And the older couple? The woman was smiling. "I'm going home, and if you don’t like it, stick it where the sun don’t shine,” she said in a loud voice and waltzed out of the bar, winking as she walked past Makala.
Her husband quickly hurried after her, not even finishing his beer. “Baby, don’t be that way,” he was telling her as the door closed behind them.
The young bartender grinned when Mac glanced his way. "I knew you weren't a hooker. Didn't buy your story about having a disease, either. Most hookers don't tell a client that. Hell, they don't care if a john gets HIV or the clap from them. Besides, even under that disguise, you're too pretty to hang out in a sleazy joint like this.
She grinned back. “I guess I’ll have to try a little harder next time.”
Ryan joined them. “Unit is on its way to pick the guy up.” He helped Landry haul the fugitive to his feet.
“I saw the demons inside you,” James spoke quietly, staring right at her. “I’m the only one who can save you from eternal damnation. No one else can help you.”
Cold chills ran down her spine. “You’re the only one with demons, James.”
James lunged toward her, but Landry guessed what he would try to do and grabbed the neck of his shirt tight with one hand, and pulled James' handcuffed hands up higher. James immediately stopped his forward movement.
“Stop!” James yelled.
“Then you be nice, you hear?” Landry told him.
James cast another glare in her direction. "The demons are laughing at us both!" he growled, then his anger drained. "I'll save you. I'll come back and find you, and then I'll cut the demons out."
“What is it with men?” she asked as she looked at Landry and Ryan. “First they want me in their bed, then they want to kill me,” she said with a sigh, shaking her head.
“I be thinkin’ it might be your bedside manner, sugar. I keep tellin’ you how you got to soften up a bit. My momma, now that’s what she be always tellin’ my sisters. Once you get the ring on the finger, then you kick their ass. Not before.”
“If I can kick their ass, then I don’t need them in my life, Landry. Nope, the man I let get close to me won’t have to worry about me kicking his ass,” she grinned.
Gage Dawson pulled to a stop in front of the sheriff's office and wearily climbed out of his black jeep. He'd been up most of the night. Johnny Gray Wolf Smith was on his way home. He had no doubt about that.
Gage had talked to his Aunt Rachael, but she hadn’t heard anything from her son. Not that he’d thought she had. Johnny wouldn’t want to involve his mother. It was worth asking her, though.
Damn it, what the hell had happened to his cousin? One minute they’d been playing in the woods, climbing trees, hunting, fishing, and in the next, Johnny tried to rob a bank. He shook his head. No, Johnny said he’d been framed. He and Black Crow had gone into the bank together. He hadn’t known Black Crow was going to hand the teller a note that said to hand over a bag of money or he’d shoot her.
Except the teller screamed and the next thing that happened, the security guard shot and killed Black Crow, and took Johnny into custody. No one believed Johnny was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was convicted, then sent to prison.
He never made it. There was a wreck, and Johnny escaped.
Why the hell hadn’t he waited at the scene? Gage had told him they would get him a different lawyer and file an appeal. What a fucking mess.
Damn, he was tired.
He walked past the flowers someone had planted. Pretty things in a variety of colors with chocolate mulch tucked lovingly around them. In another few weeks, they'd be dead from the cold. Nothing ever really survived a South Dakota winter. He probably should’ve thanked whoever planted them.
There was always too much to do, too many cases backlogged to keep up with everything. Now this. Damn, he’d kick Johnny’s ass when he caught him. He frowned. Except they were pretty evenly matched. He wasn’t sure if he could kick his ass anymore. He might be willing to give it a try just because Johnny pulled this foolish stunt, running the first chance he got.
He opened the door and went inside, nodding to the dispatcher as he walked down the hall to his office.
“You look like death warmed over,” Carlos Santiago, his chief deputy, said as he followed Gage into his office.
He took a seat behind his desk with a tired sigh. “Thanks.” He picked up a couple of files, then set them back down. They could wait. He glanced out the window. When was the last time he’d taken a vacation? Or for that matter, had a day off? He should be fishing. Or at his cabin. He hadn’t been up there all summer.
“Find out anything?” Carlos asked, drawing his attention back to the present.
Gage shook his head. "My aunt hasn't heard anything from Johnny, but I didn't think she would. He's always been protective of her."
“I think you got it wrong, amigo. Like father, like son. Your uncle was a mean son of a bitch. I know you still believe there’s good in Johnny, but I don’t think there ever was. You just never saw his dark side. Then after his father died, Johnny got even meaner.” He grimaced. “And I’m not saying that because he dumped my baby sister and she cried for days.”
He remembered. Carlos had been like a bear woken up too soon from hibernation. So yes, Gage thought Carlos still held a grudge. Besides, Carlos’ little sister hadn’t wasted much time hooking up with Lester Wright. Maybe that was Carlos’ biggest problem. Lester had gotten Carlos’ little sister pregnant and then left her high and dry. Gage had a feeling that was where most of his anger was directed and not necessarily at Johnny.
He and Carlos were the same age, thirty-six, but that was where the similarity ended. Carlos was married and had three little girls. He was shorter, five feet, ten inches where Gage was six feet, three inches, and divorced. Most of the time, Carlos had a good head on his shoulders, except when it came to family matters, then things could take a quick turn south. Like his opinion of Johnny.
“You don’t know Johnny like I do. He had a lot of problems that I didn’t have to face. I remember some of the kids used to call him half-breed when we were growing up.”
“And you kicked their asses because of it. You were always fighting his battles. Not much has changed." Carlos shook his head. "I know him a lot better than you think, my friend. You have a blind eye where he's concerned. Why else would he escape the marshal taking him to prison and then beat him almost senseless before getting away?”
"We don't know that's what happened." The poor guy was still in a coma. They didn't know whether he would live or die. "The report said the car flipped more than once, and that might have caused his injuries." Still, Johnny didn't stick around to help him. If a bystander hadn't stopped and applied a tourniquet, the marshal would've bled out.
“Do we have anything new?” Gage asked to change the subject.
“Only one new development. I tried to call you, but you must’ve been in a dead spot. Figured it wouldn’t change anything, so it could wait until you got back.”
With two fingers, Gage raised the brim of his dark brown Stetson a little higher on his forehead. Now what, he thought to himself.
“They’re sending a U.S. Marshal to bring Johnny in. Name of Mac something. The dispatcher took the message. Their team will be here sometime today.”
Gage sat forward in his chair as a slow-building anger began to burn inside him. “Damn it, we don’t need help.” He jumped to his feet and went to the coffeepot, dumping in loose coffee, adding water, then turning it on. He stared at the blank wall in front of him, trying to get his emotions under control. “They don’t know the Black Hills like we do. If they’re turned loose, they’ll end up destroying any clues. We won’t know which direction Johnny might have gone. Besides, U.S. Marshals aren’t nearly as tough as they think they are. Let one of them come face to face with a grizzly and see what happens.”
He turned around and came face to face with the most beautiful woman he'd ever run across, and she was standing in his open doorway. Her straight, dark as midnight hair just brushed her shoulders, and her green eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth. It took him a moment to realize he was standing there with his mouth open like a damned idiot. He snapped it closed. Where the hell had she come from?
“Can I help you?” he asked more gruff than he’d intended. She could’ve knocked. Except his door was open. Still, she could’ve cleared her throat or something.
Carlos turned around, then quickly jumped to his feet, grinning like a fool. Gage frowned. Had Carlos forgotten he was married to a very jealous woman and that he had three little girls who adored their daddy? He was acting as if he'd never seen a beautiful female before. Granted, she was a stunner.
“Hello, I’m Makala Madigan.”
Gage figured that was supposed to mean something, but for the life of him, he hadn’t a clue who this woman was. He was pretty sure he would remember if they’d ever met.
“The U.S. Marshal,” she continued. “You can call me Mac, everyone does. It’s less of a mouthful.” She held out her hand.
Gage automatically took it. She had a firm grip. A small, firm grip. He frowned, dropping her hand. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “You can’t be the Mac they sent up here.”
Her grin broadened. “According to all the paperwork, I am. I rarely make mistakes, so I know I’m supposed to be here.”
"Which now makes me question who the hell is over you. How could they be so stupid as to send a female?” His eyes narrowed. “Have you ever been in the field? You don’t look old enough. The forest might look pretty from a distance, but there are all kinds of dangers. I can’t protect you and find Johnny. No, you need to go right back where you came from.”
Dammit, Gage knew he was being bullheaded, but anyone could tell by looking at her that she wouldn’t last more than a day in the mountains. She was all soft and womanly, and she smelled sweet. Hell, anyone would know she was coming from a mile away.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, but he could tell by the steely glint that appeared in her eyes that she wasn’t a bit sorry. “Maybe I didn’t make myself clear, Sheriff. I’m U.S. Marshal Makala Madigan. I now have jurisdiction, and I'm taking over this case. If you don't like it, I'm sure you can take it up with the man who appointed me a US Marshal—that would be the President of the United States.”
Carlos snorted, then cleared his throat and looked down at the floor. Gage didn’t see a damn thing funny about any of this. He returned his attention to the woman in front of him.
His lips compressed into a fine line. He was about to inform Makala that like hell she was taking over the case, and she could run complaining to the President or not, but Carlos stepped in to defuse the situation.
“I think everyone has gotten off on the wrong foot,” Carlos began. “Of course you have the case now, but you’ll need the sheriff’s help. He knows the Black Hills better than anyone around. It’s easy to get lost. He’s a good tracker. The best. Maybe if you work together, then you can bring Johnny to justice.”
Gage knew Carlos was right, but it damn sure didn’t mean he had to like it. The woman studied him for a moment. She must’ve realized Carlos was right as well because she continued. “Your assistance will be appreciated. My team doesn’t know the area like you do, but understand this, I’m no powderpuff, and if you get in my way, I'll send you packing. I'm sure I can find another tracker."
Okay, maybe she was tougher than she looked. He'd still bet a month's wages that she wouldn't last a day, three tops in the hills. It might be interesting proving she wasn't as tough as she thought she was. He liked the term she'd used, powderpuff. It fit her.
“My team will need an empty room to set up their equipment.” She looked around as if she was contemplating taking over his office. That damn sure wasn’t happening.
He hesitated. He didn't want Makala here or her team. She met his gaze head-on. He had a feeling she would do precisely as she warned and bring in another tracker. If he'd known his day was going to turn out this bad, he would've stayed in the damn bed.
“There’s an empty room down the hall,” he finally told her. It was recently remodeled as a small conference room, so that should suit Miss High and Mighty. He stepped closer. He was suddenly surrounded in her seductive fragrance as it hit him square in the face. For a moment, he fantasized about what it would be like to have her under him, naked, in his bed.
She must've been having similar thoughts about him because her pupils dilated just a fraction, and everything about her softened. For a moment, things around them slowed. It was just the two of them.
This was exactly what he meant about women being trouble, he thought as he gathered his wits. She still blocked the doorway. He raised an eyebrow in question. She hesitated, then moved to the side. Man, she really hated giving an inch and letting someone else lead. He could already see she was going to be a thorn in his side.
He went to the next room and opened the door. The walls had been painted a pale beige a couple of days ago and still carried the odor of fresh paint. They’d already moved in a long table that would seat eight. The floor was plain white tile. There were windows across the back wall with white shades. No curtains. They weren’t needed. Nothing fancy, but it should suit her purpose.
She nodded. “This will do.”
“I’m glad you like it,” he said between gritted teeth.
“Oh, I didn’t say I liked it. I said it would do.”
Before he could spout off something he would probably regret, a man came to the door. “Hey Cher, this be where we gonna work?” He glanced around the room and nodded, then met Gage’s eyes, taking his measure, then looked back at the woman. Apparently, he felt the tension between them because he turned back to Gage. "Da boss lady been playing nice, Sheriff? She's a little rough around the edges sometimes, but she has a good heart, you know.”
“Excuse me? I’m right here,” she said, frowning.
“Yeah, and I be knowing you, Cher. You might be a damn good marshal, but sometimes people be thinking you’re a real bitch. Now me, I’m knowing you better than most, and I know you as sweet as sugar when you want to be.”
“Thanks a lot,” she groused, then turned to Gage. “This is Landry. He’ll be going in the field with us.”
“Ever been in a forest?” Gage asked.
“Nope. Ever been in a swamp?”
Gage wondered what he was getting at. “No.”
“Then we’re even.” He grinned. “By the way, that dispatcher is some kind of hot.”
Gage was starting to think he might like Landry, but that idea went right out the window. “Stay away from Lori.” As far as men went, Landry was probably considered hot by most women. Broad shoulders, tanned, muscled. Not a lightweight. Lori was the type who could be swayed by a handsome face with a Cajun accent. If she fell for his charms and ended up hurt, Gage’s little sister would never forgive him. Lori was her best friend.
“I’m not going to be jumping her bones the first chance I get. I just thought she be cuter than a little kitten. What you be thinking I do to her?” Landry stood tall, daring Gage to say something.
Damn, this day was going to hell in a handbag. “She’s my little sister’s friend, and I promised I’d look out for her.”
Landry relaxed, then nodded. “Maybe she be the one that does the hurting. Never know about women.”
“Can we please get to work? That is if the two of you are through discussing women.” Makala looked more than a little put-out.
At that moment, two more people came into the room, a man and a woman. “So, is this where we’re camping out, Mac?” The man's gaze landed on Gage’s badge. He stuck his hand toward Gage. “Hello, Sheriff. I’m Ryan.”
Gage shook his hand. The man had a slender build and didn’t look very old. He guessed around twenty-five or so. He‘d already pushed his black-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose several times since coming into the room. “Plenty of plugs for my equipment. Good.”
Computer geek. They used them more and more in police work. They were of some use, but they didn’t work nearly as well as good old gut instinct.
The other person who’d come into the room with Ryan was a woman. Gage guessed her around thirty-five or thirty-six, blonde hair and blue eyes. He noted the wedding ring on her finger and rolls of paper she carried. She nodded toward Gage.
“I’m Emily Watson,” she said in a timid voice, then looked around the room. “I’ll need a board so I can put up my maps of the area. I’ll coordinate with the field team to see what direction the fugitive might be taking. In the past, when we’ve worked together as a team, we’ve gotten good results.”
“We’ll be pretty remote,” Gage warned them. “Sometimes, all we’ll have to go on is our gut.”
“Our radios can reach places you’d never think they would,” Ryan told him. “I’ll just get my equipment and start bringing it in.”
Emily set her map rolls on the table and went to help, Landry followed.
"I take it by your expression, you still don't think we can find this guy," Makala said.
“You don’t know Johnny. If he doesn’t want to be found, you, me or anyone else won’t find him. He knows the Black Hills like the back of his hand.”
She studied him for a moment. “How do you know so much about him, Sheriff?”
“Call me Gage.”
She nodded. “Okay, Gage, how is it that you seem to know a lot about the fugitive?”
She was bound to find out sooner or later. It was no secret. It might as well come from him. “Johnny’s my cousin.”