Falling in Deeper (Wicked Lovers, #11) - Shayla Black

Chapter One

STONE Sutter squinted against the glare of the rising sun as he watched the increasingly familiar sights of Lafayette, Louisiana, zip past the windows of his black pickup. The early hours were almost bearable, but he knew the morning would become a hot, wet blanket by nine a.m. Every August day in the South felt like a special level of hell.

When his phone chimed, he glanced at the display: UNKNOWN NUMBER.

His fucking persistent fed. Just fabulous. “What?”

“Good morning, Sutter.”

As far as he was concerned, anything good about the day had just swirled down the toilet. “What do you want, Bankhead? I’m still working on it.”

“Too slowly.”

“I don’t move any faster with you breathing down my neck.”

“Election deadlines are coming up. If we’re going to stop Timothy Canton before he throws his hat into the ring for governor of California, we need to sew up our case now. Otherwise, he’s got enough money and financial backing to plow over the competition. We need everything ready to indict him as he’s declaring his candidacy so we can cuff him while we start spilling juicy details.”

“You’ve explained this,” Stone snapped. “I’ve got it. Give it a rest.”

FBI Special Agent Bob Bankhead—or Blockhead, as Stone preferred—huffed into the phone. “Lily Taylor bought a gun this morning under her Misty Smith alias and registered for a comprehensive gun-safety class this afternoon. Her Internet searches suggest she intends to run.”

Given Lily’s sudden and fervent interest in the Florida Keys, Stone had thought the same thing. Why, after all these years? Because her previous boyfriend, Axel Dillon, had fallen in love with someone else? Was the shy beauty stuck on a nearly married man?

“Not so cocky now, are you?” Blockhead barked. “You know how many years it took us to track down Ms. Taylor, and the political capital it cost isn’t something my boss would like to expend again. Don’t let her slip away or . . .”

The fed didn’t bother finishing his sentence. Stone knew the “or” well. He’d already spent enough time behind bars, watching his back, proving his toughness, and sidestepping inmate politics. That shit still made him break out in a cold sweat.

“I’m on it,” he swore.

“You’ve had three months. You haven’t produced a single result.”

Stone really wished he could tell the FBI to fuck off because he wasn’t a snitch and Lily wasn’t a pawn. But he didn’t have that option if he wanted to avoid another extended stay at the lovely Federal Correctional Institute in Beaumont.

“My first contact left the country before I could even approach him with the deal.” Axel certainly hadn’t stayed around long enough to see him meet his target, Lily Taylor, aka Sweet Pea. “And subsequent contacts have been . . .” Pains in my ass. “Reluctant to let me see her.”

“None of that is my problem. Do whatever you have to. Just get me a fucking witness, or you’ll be heading back to prison. You have two weeks.”

Blockhead hung up. Stone resisted the urge to pound his phone against the dashboard. It wouldn’t help his situation. Instead, he mentally reviewed his options.

Just yesterday he’d tried to move forward—and he’d been shut down again by Lily’s two staunchest guardians: Mitchell Thorpe and Sean Mackenzie. If they didn’t each already have a beautiful wife between them expecting their first baby, Stone would suspect ulterior motives. But they simply wanted Sweet Pea happy and safe.

They weren’t his only obstacles. Stone had keepers of his own. Jack Cole and Logan Edgington were supposed to ensure that he could close the deal with Lily Taylor when the time was right.

As far as Stone was concerned, the time had to be right now.

He pulled over into a nearby parking lot, empty just before eight a.m., and opened his laptop. After connecting it to his hot spot, he opened a file with a string of code he’d written and embedded it in a jpeg of a funny comic strip before he e-mailed it. Then he waited. It wouldn’t take long.

Fifteen minutes later, Jack Cole, his “boss” at Oracle, a firm that specialized in personal security and military consulting, called. Stone wasn’t a trained operative, just the technical help. And since Jack wasn’t a social creature, he knew the guy hadn’t dialed him to shoot the shit.

Here we go . . . Stone pressed the button and accepted the call. “What’s up, man? I’m on my way into the office.”

“I need a favor first.”

Jack had a superhot wife, a cute little boy, another kid