Maverick: Hell's Handlers MC Book 2
Was there a reason the men in her life—the important men who’d educated her, trained her, guided her—had all turned to the dark side? Was she the connection? Or was it just a coincidence that her father turned criminal and now her partner at the FBI seemed to have done the same?
Only on a much more sinister level?
Once again, her world had been smashed to bits by a man she’d trusted. And it hadn’t been smashed with a sledgehammer either. No, a damn wrecking ball in the form of an undercover assignment crashed through the glass house she lived in, launching millions of sharp shards at her delicate skin.
And it hurt.
God, did it hurt.
“One more chance, bitch. What the fuck are you doin’ here?” some dead-eyed brute asked her about five seconds after his fist connected with her face.
For the second time.
The additional punch disoriented her for a second, long enough to lose her sense of upright and meet the ground. Crash landing on the rock-and-twig-filled ground of the Tennessee forest felt about as wonderful as being socked in the face. Shit, she was going to feel this for quite a while.
If she survived.
On all fours, with palms and knees throbbing from the bits of gravel and dirt embedded in her skin, Stephanie spit out blood that had pooled in her mouth from the split lip. Fear clawed at her throat, but there wasn’t time for it. She had to think and think fast. “Hiking,” she said, the sound a bit muffled from the swelling. She stared up at the man who was as comfortable hitting a woman as she was lounging on her couch and watching Netflix. Not a good sign. It meant he truly didn’t give a shit about her life. “Got lost.”
And…damn…who knew talking with a split lip would hurt so damn much? Tears pooled in her eyes, but she’d rather die than let one of those suckers slip free. She wasn’t the toughest of chicks out there…physically at least. A few arrests during her time as a beat cop had resulted in physical altercations with significant bumps and bruising. She’d always put on a tough mask in front of her fellow officers but bawled like a baby in the privacy of her own home.
Dead-Eyes threw back his head and laughed before turning to his buddy, a guy so overweight Stephanie was pretty sure she could outrun him even if they broke both her legs. She’d never outrun Dead-Eyes, though. He was big, muscled, and packed a wallop of a punch. “You believe this bitch, Top?” he asked the larger man.
Top grunted and shook his head, his many chins wobbling like Jello. “Fuck no. No reason for a bitch to be hiking out here, Shark. Ain’t even any fuckin’ trails.”
Like he spent much time trekking through the great outdoors.
Stephanie bit back the smart-assed remark on the tip of her tongue. Silence was her best bet. Plus, this little gangbanger pow-wow gave her a second to reorient and breathe through the pain.
This entire thing had been a huge mistake. She wasn’t a field agent, but basically an FBI desk jockey for the Cybercrimes Investigative Division. Daniel Rey, her partner of the past two years, had been an undercover agent for the Human Trafficking Task Force for years. When the Bureau sniffed a case here in Townsend, Tennessee, they dragged Rey away from his cushy job and threw him back in the field. That was a year ago. She was his contact in DC.
Nothing more. It kept her plenty busy, investigating leads, following financials, learning all the players. But she wasn’t an undercover agent.
Yet here she was because he’d missed two check-ins with her in a row. Not uncommon for an agent deep undercover, but it was his first. So the Bureau had sent her to Tennessee. And she’d been the idiot to go off in the woods by herself.
“Get the fuck up, bitch,” Shark said. He grabbed her hair and started to yank her to her feet. She may not be out in the field often, but she’d been trained like any other agent. Reflex and hours of rigorous instruction kicked in. She reacted without thinking, ramming her elbow into his hard gut.
Shark grunted and released her hair. “Fuck!” he yelled.
Her heart raced and, for one second, she froze. Then her brain screamed run, and she took off like a rabbit.
She’d made it five steps when a strong arm tagged her around the waist and lifted her off her feet like she was a small child. And like a child, she freaked the fuck right out, kicking, screaming, trying to bite. But it was all in vain. Whoever held her was bigger, stronger, and meaner than she was. He squeezed her until she felt her ribs would pop right out of her sternum.
“Settle the fuck down, bitch,” he growled in her ear, and her breath seized.
Daniel Rey. Her partner. Known as King to these assholes.
Her muscles went limp with relief, and she sagged in his arms. Thank God. Nerves still had her insides quaking, but some of the fear had gone. Rey was here, and he’d make sure she wasn’t harmed.
All he had to say was that he believed her. Saw her tromping around like a bewildered idiot. Spotted her looking lost and stupid in the woods. He could volunteer to drop her somewhere and scare the piss out of her so she wouldn’t talk.
Then Stephanie could find out what the hell was going on and why Agent Rey had missed his last two check-ins.
He turned around with her still in his arms and trudged back the twenty feet to where Shark and the Top dude waited. Shark had the creepiest smile, making all the hair on her arms stand straight on end. She shivered despite the hot sun shining through the trees. She wanted to be gone in the worst way.
Take a breath, Stephanie. Rey won’t let them hurt you.
Right? He wouldn’t. Sure, sometimes undercover agents had to commit heinous acts to work their way into a gang, but that wouldn’t involve hurting their partner. Would it? Stephanie would make the worst undercover agent ever. She’d never be able to break the law, even in the name of good. The ends didn’t always justify the means. Her ingrained sense of right and wrong came from growing up with a strict as hell police officer single-father.
“No fucking way this bitch was just out in the woods,” King said, releasing her. Two seconds later she felt something hard press between her shoulder blades. His AR-15.
What the fuck?
What was going on? Why hadn’t he just let her outrun him? Let her escape? They’d never know. He could have feigned falling down or something.
“I say we waste her now. Bury her and get back to those bitches we left naked and needy.” As he spoke, he circled until he was standing in front of her, weapon leveled at her head. She blinked back her surprise at the sight of him. Gone was his thick head of blond hair he kept in a neat and professional style. Now, he was cue-ball bald and had a scruffy goatee. He’d bulked up, too.
What. The. Fuck.
His own wife might not recognize him.
A cold wave ran through her from the very top of her head straight to her toes. Stephanie had never worked so hard in her life as she did to keep the shock off her face and the vile words in her mouth. Could he mean it? Was there a chance he’d been swallowed up by Shark’s world?
King wasn’t serious. He couldn’t be. Her partner was a veteran FBI agent, for crying out loud. They didn’t just throw away everything they’d worked for, throw away their families for a life of crime. There had to be an extraction plan bouncing around in his head.
That knowledge helped her relax despite the fact one twitch of King’s finger would splatter her brains all over the Tennessee woods.
“Nah,” Shark said. “Where’s the fun in that? Let’s take her with us. A few hours hanging with the boys, and she’ll be ready to talk.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
These men were suspected of human trafficking. They’d have no qualms about raping her.
She tried with all her might to send King a mental message, but he wouldn’t meet her gaze. This was as bad for him as it was for her. They’d torture her for information, and she’d crack. His identity would be revealed, and the shit show would commence.
Especially if they had zilch training in enduring torture. The Bureau told her it would be no big deal. Lay eyes on Agent Rey, and she’d be home in two days.
Why the hell wouldn’t he make eye contact?
“Who gives a fuck why she’s here? Let me kill her and be fuckin done with it,” King said.
Stephanie was in grave danger of puking all over the forest floor. As she stared at her partner of two years, the partner who taught her everything she knew about working for the FBI, the partner who teased her endlessly for her opinions on the black and white nature of the world, the nausea became unbearable.
When he’d regaled her with tales of his undercover days, King had told her working undercover would change her view of the world. That undercover agents often had to live the life of a criminal and learn to deal with living in the shadows for the sake of doing good. Even though she’d heard it before, she’d rejected the notion of living in a gray zone.
Finally, he met her gaze. His eyes were flat, emotionless, nothing like the man she knew and trusted. He winked, but it wasn’t an I-have-your-back kind of wink. It was evil. A promise of horror and pain.
And she knew.
There were no fucking shades of gray.
She’d been right all along.
Only black. Only white.
And King had officially been swallowed by the darkness.
But this wasn’t a case of doing what he had to, to maintain cover. This was a monster who wore human skin for a time and managed to fool even the most skeptical. Her knees wobbled and her head spun. She had to leave. Had to get out before they killed her…or worse.
“What the fuck did I say, King?” Shark asked. “I want her at the compound. You can kill her eventually, but it’s been a shit week. The boys need some fun first.”
Stephanie swallowed. Boys? Fun?
There weren’t too many ways to interpret that.
Without thinking, she took two steps back on legs that could barely hold her.
“Don’t even think about it, bitch,” King said. He stepped closer, and she flinched as the barrel of his rifle made contact with her forehead. “Swear to God I’ll explode your head all over this fucking forest.” There was no way the hatred in his tone was fake. He wasn’t acting.
She believed him.
Why? What was so appealing about this lifestyle that a decorated FBI agent would do a one-eighty and betray everything he once stood for?
Sure, he and his wife had a few money troubles, but enough to do this?
Frustration with the system?
Sticking it to the man?
It seemed too dramatic to be merely making a point.
The ultimate hissy fit?
“Let’s roll,” Shark said, turning on his heel and trudging toward the building she could see through the trees in the distance.
Top leered at her for a second longer before waddling after his master like an overfed but well-trained dog.
If there was any chance for escape, it was now or never. She was somewhat alone with her partner. Maybe she’d misinterpreted Rey’s actions and he really was an amazing actor and undercover agent. Maybe so good he’d even fooled his partner. “Please, Daniel,” she whispered as she started to back away again. “Let me run. Tell them I tripped you. You can call in later when this blows over.”
“Don’t. Fucking. Run.”
“Why are you doing this? What happened to you?”
“Bitch,” he practically growled at her. “If you don’t fucking move, I’ll shoot out your knee. It’ll hurt like a bitch, but it won’t keep you from what’s coming.”
Her stomach lurched, and she gagged as bile climbed high in her esophagus.
For one second, she had the insane urge to call out to Shark. To yell as loud as she could and let the scumbag know his precious King was an undercover FBI agent.
It wouldn’t matter if he pledged his loyalty to Shark forever. He’d be killed. That’s how it worked with gangs.
Nothing less than he deserved at that moment.
But she didn’t give into the urge. It wouldn’t be justice; it would be an act of vigilantism. It was the job of law enforcement and the legal system to handle his actions.
If she lived long enough to report back to her superiors.
“You can still leave,” she whispered as she started after Shark. King’s gun remained on her, and even though it was no longer touching her skin, she felt the sight of it like a needle stabbing straight through her skin.
He just grunted and said, “Move.”
“Why?” she whispered when Shark was out of earshot.
King grunted and shook his head. “So fucking naïve, Stephanie. You always have been. It’s all gray out here.”
No. She refused to believe it. This situation was clearly not on any gray spectrum. King was evil. Plain and simple.
“No, Daniel, I’m not naïve. But you sure are a fucking traitor.”
“You’ll never get it. And you’ll never survive this world. Wake the fuck up,” King said as he thrust his right arm forward and rammed the butt of his rifle into her head.
His murderous expression was the last thing she saw before her vision went black.