Ransom (Dead Man's Ink, #3) - Callie Hart

PROLOGUE

CADE

“Don’t even think about it. Don’t you dare even think about it, motherfucker.”

The weight of my rifle sits heavy in the crook of my shoulder. Both of my hands are on the brink of going numb. My skin feels damp and clammy from lying out in the tall grass for so long, but I can’t move. Nope. No way. Hector and his men disappeared five days ago and haven’t been seen since. Ever since then, Rebel’s had people watching the farmhouse, waiting for them to return, and it just so happens I’m on duty when the black sedans roll down the long, winding driveway toward the two story building. I wasn’t on watch when the bastards left, so I have no idea how many people departed or how many will be returning, but my math is pretty good. Three cars just rolled up, tires crunching on the gravel driveway, headlights spearing the darkness, casting long, narrow columns of light over the field I’m currently laid low in, over the two story building in front of me. Over the three-walled barn that crouches low to the right of the building. Three sedans. So potentially fifteen people all in. Can’t imagine Ramirez cramming three grown ass dudes into the back seats of his vehicles—that would be far too undignified—so realistically we’re looking at twelve men, maximum. I’m definitely outnumbered, regardless of how many passengers the cars carry.

I don’t worry about being seen. I spent years perfecting the art of camouflage in the military. I can just as easily make myself invisible here in the middle of bum fuck nowhere, New Mexico, as I can in a forest or a city. No, I won’t be seen.

Ramirez obviously has ideas about remaining invisible, as one by one the cars switch off their headlights, coasting the last fifty feet down toward the house with silenced engines and a cloak of darkness to conceal what’s going on inside the vehicles.

I mutter under my breath again, willing my eyes to adjust to darkness. “Sneaky fucker. You can’t hide from me.” I close one eye, shifting the rifle across an inch so I can switch from my left to my right while I get used to the shadows. When I open my left eye again, I can see pretty well. Well enough to make out the shapes of bodies moving in front of the house.

Ramirez knows we’ve been watching him. He has to. That’s the only reason he’d be taking such precautions. He hasn’t counted on the fact that I have better than average night vision, though. Or the fact that the huge DSLR camera I’ve brought with me is state of the art and can discern images in the dark without the need for a flash. I place the rifle in the grass next to me and power up the camera, holding it up so I can look through the lens. God, this thing’s fucking good. Three men go inside the house. Another figure climbs the stairs up to the porch and then turns, looking back over his shoulder. My itchy trigger finger comes in handy when I make out the man’s face. I react quickly, shooting off a picture of Hector Ramirez, and a large part of me is pissed at the fact that I switched over from the rifle to the Canon. It would have been a clean shot. I could have put a bullet between his eyes and no one would have noticed a thing until the bastard’s body hit the deck. I would have been long gone.

Ramirez disappears inside. My night’s work here is done now. I’ve laid hidden for long enough. I’ve seen the devil himself return back to Freemantle, and now I need to get my ass back to the compound to let Rebel know. Slowly I begin to pack up the camera. I work silently, not making a sound—don’t want to attract any attention to myself as I sneak back to the road where I hid my bike. That would be a big mistake. I nearly have everything secured when I hear the commotion up by the farmhouse. It sounds like feet kicking at dirt, scrambling, and the dull sound of someone’s shouts being cut off.

“He—HELP!”

I have the camera unpacked in a heartbeat. Another shout echoes across the fields, and a flock of birds explode from the tree line of the forest on the right. Tiny black silhouettes cartwheel across the sky, zigzagging this way and that.

“Shut the fuck up, old