Authors: Dianna Love
Boyd leaned back against the wall, grimacing with each breath he took and white-knuckling his weapon. His hand went for his radio, hesitated, then he drew a raspy breath, straightened up and pulled his hand back.
He was a decent guy who showed up and did his job without attitude. He’d actually dragged Ryder away after the fight with the Beast and his lackeys, before someone else could attack Ryder’s broken body.
People who’d never been in a prison might assume Boyd’s action had been standard protocol for a guard. Not even. The guards could have left Ryder to the other thugs, until his entire body had looked like hamburger, but Boyd had been standing close enough to know Ryder hadn’t started that altercation.
Ryder spent thirty days in the Hole with nothing but time to think about that one act of consideration.
Forty-three-thousand, two-hundred minutes.
No clothes except underwear. Nothing but him, a bunk too short to sleep in, a toilet, and whatever rodent came by to steal a bite.
Dots swam in front of his eyes.
Stop thinking about it
Instead, he focused on Boyd.
What to do? Take the risk of saving a life, or live with the guilt of not lifting a finger?
Ryder began moving toward the guard with subtle steps as he searched the yard to locate all the players in the macabre show unfolding around him. He should back away, but his damn DNA was hotwired to his conscience. His odds floated right around toilet level. Interfering with the Beast’s plan meant facing the Beast
The second guard in the yard was still observing what had turned into an intense four-man conversation.
Ryder looked back at Boyd, who sagged.
Stubborn bastard, radio someone to relieve you.
But Boyd had missed too much time recently while he cared for a diabetic little girl he was raising alone.
He was afraid to take another day of sick leave and risk losing this job in a sucky economy.
Ryder didn’t want to know all that, but he did.
Don’t take your eye off the goal,
his common sense warned. Half an hour until the Slye attorney showed. Six minutes until exercise hour ended.
Come on, assholes, call us in early
The predators closed the gap between them and Boyd to thirty feet. At five steps from the guard, Ryder paused because everyone else had stopped. Maybe he’d misread something and let his mouthy conscience interfere when he should be listening to his common sense. Just a couple more minutes and the Beast would lose his chance at whatever he was up to, this time at least.
Boyd looked right at Ryder then his face drooped on one side and his skin paled two more shades.
One of the inmates whistled a birdcall. A signal.
The foursome over in the corner cranked up the volume on their rumble-in-the-making discussion, which hadn’t reached the point of an argument. No worse than a loud debate about sports. So far.
Whatever the Beast had in mind was on.
Ryder wasn’t surprised at the crazy inmate going after vengeance, but how much was this going to cost him? The Beast had to pay the other inmates—and Cherry Man would not be cheap—plus he’d face whatever disciplinary action the warden dealt out.
When the other guard took a step toward the four noisy men, Ryder relaxed. That guard would call the end of exercise time and ...
Boyd’s left arm fell slack at his side. The rifle slipped in the grasp of his other hand. His knees buckled and Boyd slid helplessly down the wall, moaning.
Ryder took another cautious step. Sweat trickled into his eyes. Why wasn’t the tower calling the other guard?
Because the four men in the corner had everyone’s attention.
Everything happened within seconds.
A shrill birdcall split the air, then a shouting match erupted between the four men, but no contact or the tower would shoot. The second guard stalked over, weapon raised, and ordering the men to separate.
At the same moment, sixteen predators rushed Boyd.
Ryder cursed his stupidity and lunged for the guard, hoping like hell he didn’t draw a bullet from the tower.
Bullets popped the ground around them. Sirens screeched and bullhorns shouted to break apart.
hesitate to shoot into a crowd
they realized a guard was at the bottom.
Boyd’s pain-filled eyes locked on Ryder with a glimmer of hope that one person was not coming to hurt him.
Reaching the guard first, Ryder slammed his foot down on the rifle as he squatted to unclip the guard’s radio. He got his fingers on the radio, then was body tackled to the ground. Feet and legs were everywhere. Dust boiled the air. Ryder choked and coughed. He sucked in the odor of stinking bodies. Fists punched
body and a sneaker-covered foot bashed
What the fuck?
The bigger the pile, the easier it was to cover up whatever went on underneath.
Sirens wailed and shots were fired.
Ryder yanked the radio free and dragged it toward his mouth. Calling medical aid for Boyd might save both their asses.
Two huge hands grabbed Ryder’s forearm, knocking the radio loose and yanking his hand into the pile. His palm landed on cool metal. He closed his fingers to jerk his hand away. Another shoe kicked his jaw, knocking him dizzy. His captured hand slammed down on something. He couldn’t breathe with the weight on his back. Stars crowded his vision. The inmate pinning him down rolled off. When Ryder felt his arm slip, he wrenched his hand back and found it empty. He shook his head to clear the ringing.
Gritty voices shouted orders. More shots erupted close by.
An inmate clutching a rifle fell across Ryder. Guess that was the one who’d grabbed Boyd’s weapon. The pungent smell of fresh blood stained the air.
Ryder shoved his elbows to his sides and pushed up to hoist the limp body off his back.
Boyd’s arm stuck out of the pile with his banged-up Timex watch. His fingers flexed. Ryder grabbed Boyd’s wrist, trying to drag him from the pile. If he could keep the guard alive then he had a chance to prove—
Another shoe heel slammed Ryder’s kidneys. He fell down on his side, curled in pain. He tasted blood in his mouth.
More guards shouted as they poured into the yard, locked and loaded.
Inmates grumbled and cursed as they unpiled.
Clutching his gut, Ryder lifted his head and looked to his right.
Boyd’s face was turned to him, eyes wide and blank. Blood trickled from where a homemade shiv had been jammed into his throat
A vile laugh drew Ryder’s gaze up to find the Beast grinning at him.
This hadn’t been about payback to Boyd, but to Ryder.
There would be only one set of prints on that metal shiv.
“I got the new springs in that antique platform rocker.” FBI Special Agent Bianca Brady paced back and forth on the manicured grass, fighting off the gut-wrenching ache that lived in her chest. “It turned out great. It’s goin’ to Millie Fryer. She needs it for rockin’ her new grandbaby.”
Bianca held a red velvet cupcake with “26” on the top, printed in red icing. Sara Lynn’s favorite.
“The upright freezer just needed a new cord. It went to a raptor rescue center in North Georgia. Daddy’s proud o’ that.” Bianca continued with her progress report as she looked up into the brown leaves clinging to the giant oaks scattered around the area, at a few lingering patches of color in this part of the Appalachian Mountains, anywhere but toward her best friend.
“I’ve got an entire pallet of Raggedy Ann dolls in the garage. They didn’t even hardly get wet when the Walmart roof leaked. The boxes are toast, but the dolls don’t need much except new dresses. Sewin’ is
Or it had been.
Bianca stopped in her tracks. She couldn’t slide back into her native mountain speech pattern. Not even here.
She finally gave up and sat down on the ground, crossing her legs as thunder grumbled closer. “I better not leave here wet this time, Sara Lynn.”
Leaves rustled as the chilly, early October breeze kicked up, but no other sound. Not even a bird chirped.
She hated the silence more than anything.
Missed the times when Sara Lynn would give her a shove and say, “Don’t be a wus, BB.”
for Bianca Brady. Sara Lynn had started that in grade school and she was the only person Bianca allowed to get away with that, or with calling her a wus.
She missed Sara Lynn spending hours with her in Daddy’s barn, refurbishing old furniture, appliances, toys—anything that could have a second chance—to give to somebody who needed it.
Bianca had a knack for seeing the value in something discarded and enjoyed the challenge of bringing it back to life. Her daddy had taught her how to work with her hands and use all kinds of tools.
Sara Lynn thought Bianca could do anything.
Bianca reached out and touched the cold granite headstone, squinting back another tear. “I thought I could do anything, too, as long as I had my best friend beside me. I hate celebrating your birthday here, dammit.” A tear slid down her face. “God, I miss you so much.”
Sara Lynn would swat her for taking the Lord’s name in vain.
“I’m not holding up my end of the business right now, but I’m a bit busy. I’ll get back to it when this job’s done. I miss fixin’ things almost as much as I miss you.”
Sara Lynn claimed Bianca was drawn to all things damaged and abandoned, including people.
She’d only said that because Sara Lynn had been an outcast until the day Bianca met her in fifth grade and claimed Sara Lynn as her best friend
. Bianca still didn’t understand why others had never looked past the maroon birthmark that covered more than half of Sara Lynn’s face, her full figure or her kinky orange-red hair to see the loving soul inside.
Or the mind capable of running a Fortune 500 company.
The day Bianca handed Sara Lynn a small dollhouse Bianca had cleaned up and repaired in her daddy’s backyard shop, Sara Lynn had burst into tears at the gift.
Bianca’s throat tightened at the memory.
Even after high school, Sara Lynn had always been there with her, spending nights and weekends refinishing discarded furniture in the tiny living room of their ground floor apartment. When they had a load ready, they’d run it back to Thatcher for their neighbors.
When Bianca was recruited out of college to work as an analyst at Quantico, Sara Lynn moved home to work for her church. But Friday afternoons at five, Bianca would head south on I-81 to spend her weekends with her best friend.
Until two years ago.
Bianca fingered the charm bracelet on her wrist. The six charms and bracelet links were shiny once again.
She’d rubbed a blister on her finger the first time she polished the second-hand jewelry and gave it to Sara Lynn for her sixteenth birthday.
The tear slid down Bianca’s face. She wiped it away and sat up straight.
This should be like any other day on the calendar, but it would never feel that way unless she could turn back time. If she had that ability, she’d take back the words she should never have uttered that sent Sara Lynn to her death.
Swallowing against the knot stuck in her throat, Bianca said, “I brought your favorite cupcake.” Sara Lynn was one month younger than Bianca. She placed the birthday cupcake on the ground in front of her best friend’s headstone and tucked her birthday card underneath.
Thunder rumbled louder this time and the wind intensified.
She had to get through this and admit she was failing Sara Lynn. “Now that the party has settled down, I’ll be honest with you. I have a favor to ask.”
Was that rain falling in the distance?
She took in the clouds still piling together and lowered a narrowed gaze at the headstone. “I’m wearin’ my good clothes today, but I’ll make this quick if I’m holdin’ you up.”
Sarcasm was lost on Sara Lynn.
Bianca got back to her point. “Our investigation is stuck. I’ve searched everywhere for evidence on this case, but we still don’t have any way of proving how the terrorists in your attack got their hands on those
As if everyone were allotted their own personal death squad when Sara Lynn had been nothing more than a warm body in a humanitarian group to those terrorists.
There were attacks—somewhere in the world—every few days now, but the one in Istanbul two years ago had taken Sara Lynn from Bianca and eight more victims from their families and friends.
A few wet sprinkles tapped against Bianca’s arm. She sighed and hurried on. “I promised you I’d see this through and I will, but I need help. I’m thinking you’ve got some pull and ... since your current Boss sees everything...”
Understatement of the year.
No flash of inspiration hit her.
Why should God help her when it was Bianca’s fault Sara Lynn was dead?
She took a shuddering breath. “I am so sorry I talked you into going to Istanbul. I really thought it would be a great opportunity and it sounded low-risk.” Her voice cracked. “I’m more sorry that I got sick and couldn’t go with you. We should’ve been together, just like always.”
Bianca’s cell phone buzzed. She scrubbed at her eyes and checked the display. “Really? I take one day off ...” Another round of thunder boomed. She cleared her throat, sat up straight so she could sound professional, and answered, “Special Agent Brady.”
“Murdock wants to see you in the Atlanta office pronto,” Murdock’s assistant Quinten said.
Pointing out that Bianca had taken a vacation day she’d put in for months ago was not a wise career move at this point. Not when Jason Murdock, her boss at her temporary assignment and FBI Special Agent in Charge in Atlanta, wanted to see her. “I’m about five hours north of Atlanta, but I’ll head back right away. Can you tell me what he needs? I have my laptop so I can send him something immediately.”