Authors: Kristine Mason
Copyright © 2014 Kristine Thompson
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my brother, Rob…
Bro. When I think of Florida, I think of you. Some of my best childhood memories are the long drives we took with Mom from Ohio to St. Pete, to stay with Grandma and Grandpa. The song,
Li’l Red Riding Hood
, by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs will, strangely, forever hold a special place in my heart. So will the memories of dodging palmetto bugs and catching tiny lizards. Of course I’ll never forget the baby jellyfish incident or tricking you into believing sand dollars were buried in the sandbar (I’m sorry that crab pinched your finger). As adults, we’ve had many fun times flying down to Florida for long weekends to visit Dad. I miss sitting on the beach with you and Dad, cocktail in hand and catching up on life. Dude, you’re pretty awesome. I’d say you were totally awesome, but I don’t want that going to your head. Since I do think you’re cool and this book is set in Florida, this one is for you!
A big thank you to Captain Jack’s Airboat tours for a fun ride and loads of information about the Everglades. As always, I appreciate the help from my critique partner, Jamie Denton. You always keep me in line and were a tremendous help with writing this book. Another shout out to my brainstorming partner, Christy Carlson, I love spending hours chatting about our books. Thank you Tessa Shapcott for editing Ultimate Prey. Kari Ayasha, from Cover to Cover Designs, thank you for making me another fantastic cover. And, last but not least, I’d like to thank my husband and kids for not hating me while I was writing this book.
If you lose a big fight, it will worry you all of your life.
It will plague you—until you get your revenge.
“ON YOUR KNEES.”
Inmate K11477 tensed his body as Aaron Moody’s rough command made his stomach sick and his skin crawl with disgust. His hand tingled with the urge to clench it into a fist and smash Moody in the throat. He’d like to do more than that and had often lain in his cell fantasizing about mutilating the man’s penis, or using a broomstick to show Moody that he was nobody’s bitch.
Knowing what was to come—the pain, the degradation, the unfathomable sense of powerlessness—had bile rising in his throat. But he wouldn’t bother fighting Moody today, not with his release scheduled for later this week. As much as he’d love to snap the man’s neck, killing Moody wasn’t worth adding to his time.
He needed out of this shithole.
He needed to make the little prick who’d put him here suffer.
Slowly, he turned, glanced from Moody to the two men who had always traveled with the bastard, then to the laundry room exit. The prison guard standing at the door made eye contact with him.
“Make it quick,” the guard said, then turned his back.
Fucker. Moody had a couple of guards in his pocket. Unfortunately this bastard was one of them.
“You heard the man,” Moody said, with a snarl and grabbed the crotch of his light blue uniform. “No time for foreplay. Get on your knees.”
When he didn’t obey, Moody nodded to his men, who took turns punching him in the stomach. Gasping for breath, fighting the pain, he involuntarily fell to his knees.
Moody knocked his head with the back of his hand. “I can’t believe you’re leaving us,” he said, pulling out his penis. “It won’t be the same without you. Come on, open wide.”
When he still didn’t obey, Moody punched him in the head. He thought about just letting Moody and his men beat the shit out of him to the point he’d be knocked unconscious, but for what he had planned upon release, he needed to be healthy, not broken and brain-damaged.
“Hurry up and do it,” Moody demanded.
Ignoring the man’s erection, he looked Moody in the eyes. “If we were on the outside, you would have been dead the moment you first tried touching me.”
Moody grinned. “All these years and that’s the first time you’ve said anything outside of ‘Fuck you’ or ‘Get off me’. I think I prefer it better that way. So why don’t you shut up and—”
“Do you know how many men I’ve killed?”
Moody’s smile fell. “Word is you only killed one, and it was an
. If you’re trying to be scary now, it’s not working. Now open—”
“I’ve killed close to forty people,” he said, wishing he could make it forty-one. He glanced to the two other men and the guard. Forty-four.
Moody snorted. “Bullshit.”
He knew Moody was also here for murder, but the bastard had no clue who he’d been screwing with all these years. He
killed close to forty people, maybe more. He’d hunted them, stalked them, then had done the world a favor and had ended their lives.
“I’ve slit throats, put bullets in heads. Ever smell a burning body?” he asked, remembering the night he’d set fire to one of the wooden homes in the Iraqi village he’d attacked. It had burst into flames, and had sent women and children, their clothes ablaze, running into the street. “At first, it’ll make you think of grilling a side of fatty beef, but then the smell turns coppery. If you stick around long enough, as the organs start to fry, you’ll be thinking there’s liver burning in the frying pan.”
“Liar. Shut up and suck.”
“How much time do you have left?”
“I swear if you don’t—”
“Five years is what I heard. If I were you, I’d kill me now,” he taunted, knowing the man wouldn’t kill him and face having more time added to his fifteen-year prison sentence. “Because the day you’re released, I’m coming for you. I’ll use my Browning and put a couple of holes in you.” He glanced to Moody’s deflated penis. “Maybe in your small prick and tiny testicles. Then I’ll cut you. You should see the machete I have at home. She’s pretty. But I wouldn’t kill you right away. No. When I’m done making you bleed, I’m going to pour gasoline over your sorry ass and set you on fire. Watch you burn and scream and—”
Moody punched him. Blood spurted from his nose and onto Moody’s clothes and bared flesh. “Flip him around and pull off his pants,” he told his men. “I want him to bend over and take it.”
The two men lifted him by the armpits, then turned him away from the exit. They shoved his pants down and his face to the floor. One of them kept his foot on his head to keep him still, while Moody proceeded to rape him.
He fought against the pain. He cleared his mind and imagined how he would make Moody pay for his sins. And the little prick who’d sent him to this Hell.
If it hadn’t been for him, if only the prick had done the right thing, he wouldn’t have had to endure the rapes and beatings. He wouldn’t have lost his wife and children, could’ve attended his father’s funeral… He couldn’t think about his dad. Not when he was being degraded and abused.
The rage, the shame, the need to kill rushed through him, but he kept it locked down. Blood dripped from his nose and into his mouth. He tasted freedom and vengeance.
He closed his eyes and imagined the wooden butt of his rifle in his hands. His finger wrapped around the cool trigger, his target in the lines of his scope. Saw his prey, saw the righteous man who had betrayed him and left him to rot in prison running scared. And the arrogant prick would be running scared and for his life very soon. He would see to it. He would make him suffer and make it clear…
Nobody fucked with him. Ever.
There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.
Two months later…
Everglade City, Florida
Thursday, 12:22 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
“DID YOU HEAR that?”
Ian Scott curled his fiancée’s tensed body closer and drew the comforter over them. “Probably just the palm fronds from the tree near the window scraping against the siding.” He smothered a yawn with his free hand. “What’s going on with you? You’ve been on edge ever since we pulled into the driveway.”
Cami reached behind her and turned on the lamp sitting on the nightstand. He winced when the light hit his tired eyes. “Maybe we should have stayed in Chicago,” she said, relaxing against him, and running her hands through his graying chest hairs. “I think it’s selfish of us to spend Thanksgiving away from our families.”
She hadn’t thought so last week when he’d booked the trip, or even this afternoon when they had been boarding his company jet. “You said you wanted to get away.”
Tossing her white-blonde hair over her shoulder, Cami raised herself up on her elbow and faced him. “That’s when I thought we were going to a beach resort,” she said, her bright blue eyes filling with apology.
He ran a hand along her bare hip. “It was twenty-two degrees and snowing when we left Chicago, and eighty when we landed in Florida. If you don’t want to stay, I’ll take you back home.” He squeezed her hip. “Or, maybe you could give this place a chance? We might not be on the beach, but we’re only twenty minutes from the nearest one. I’ll take you tomorrow.”
She leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. “I’d like that.”
“But?” he prompted when he saw the hesitation in her eyes.
“We’ll still be staying here.”
“You don’t like the house I rented?” The last time he took a vacation, he’d secluded himself at this house and had loved every minute. Nestled near clusters of palm trees, but only one hundred yards from the Everglades’ eerily beautiful marshes, he’d enjoyed clocking out and going off the grid for a few days. The reception here was hit or miss, which meant limited phone calls. The place had Wi-Fi, but he’d spent the weekend avoiding emails and instead, had a great time connecting with nature. Because he’d loved the area so much, he had wanted to share it with Cami. Only his California girl obviously preferred to be closer to civilization…and the beach.
“The house is beautiful. But I was envisioning strolling on boardwalks, shopping, going to dinner—not worrying about alligators, venomous snakes and bugs. Not to sound ungrateful, but a swamp isn’t an ideal setting for a romantic getaway.” Her eyes widened and she tensed. “There’s that noise again.”
He hadn’t heard anything the first time, but he had now. And it sounded just like what he’d originally suspected. Palm fronds scraping the siding. “I told you it’s nothing. The wind has kicked up, that’s all.”
She looked over her shoulder toward the windows decorated with white plantation shutters. “Maybe you should go see for sure. What if it’s a gator trying to break in?”
“Maybe you should stop being paranoid,” he said with a chuckle. “And we’re not in a swamp, we’re in the Everglades. It’s one of my favorite places, which is why I brought you here.”
She faced him. “I’m sorry. I really
sound ungrateful. It’s just this place reminds me of when I was filming
Evil that Lurks
“Which one?” Cami had started her acting career at eighteen, playing the terrified, screaming heroine of the low budget horror film,
Evil that Lurks
, which had wound up being a cult classic. The film had eventually spun off numerous others.
Evil that Lurks in Paradise
Evil that Lurks in the Sewers
Evil that Lurks in the Woods
were only a few that came to mind, and Cami always starred in the lead role.
Evil that Lurks in the Swamp
, of course.”
He grinned as the memory of the film played out in his head… Cami, wearing next to nothing and screaming her head off as a machete-wielding, crazed madman rose from the murky water to attack her. The shame of it was that Cami was an excellent actress. Unfortunately she’d spent her late teens and twenties playing the role of the damsel in distress in so many horror flicks, she couldn’t find a film director to take her seriously enough to offer her a role where she could show off her acting skills.