I’d have done it, too, if Durham hadn’t made his move first.

If he hadn’t struck like a wolf, tearing me to pieces, and knowing he’d do worse to Fuchsia if I showed up on his doorstep again. If I let him know he hadn’t succeeded in taking me out.

This picture, it’s all I have left of her.

Everything except for that haunting folder buried under too many others to count, full of grainy pictures from Bainbridge Island, marked only by one word. MANDOLIN.

And it’s still more than she has left of me, considering the entire world believes I’m a dead man.

It’s times like this when I wonder if I am.

I’ve lived more like an anguished wraith, conducting my own hit-and-run raids on Galentron assets when I could, blocking them from more mayhem, always trying to dig up that one crucial piece of intel that would finish them once and for all…

Only to be beaten to it by the insane leak Clarissa Bell made to the world with the help of former Nighthawk Leo Regis, the beast once known as Nine. I may have had a hand in the data, but hell.

What am I doing now?

Still trying to pick up the pieces?

Still trying to find her, so I can finally show myself, so I can hand her that haunting folder stamped MANDOLIN along with my own dripping heart.

I’m in such a fucked up funk I barely hear my phone vibrate. One of the burners, I realize, which makes me drag my heavy weight off the floor and go flying across the room.

“Yeah?” I snap, scratching at my chin.

“Major? You’re never gonna believe this. We’ve just had a very interesting tip from the prison network. You know how they picked up Leland Durham a few months ago? Big scene in downtown Seattle, throwing him in handcuffs and everything—”

“Like I could’ve missed it. Everybody and their damn brother only saw it played a thousand times on CNN, Fox, MSNBC…” I don’t know where my guy’s going.

“Well, turns out, there’s a little more to that Durham than meets the eye…”

I wait for him to go on.

I listen to him talk.

I feel my fist flex like the head of a sledgehammer.

By the time he’s finished, I need to fucking hit something. It’s a good thing fifteen years of total hell have trained me in the art of patience.

Because there’s only one man who deserves to feel every savage, bone-splitting bit of this.

Because the instant Fuchsia finds out the same thing I just did, it means she’s in danger again, courtesy of the same sniveling, dirty hell-fuck I gave my life—as far as everyone knows—to stop years ago.

Because Leland goddamn Durham just made what would’ve been a heart-wrenching reunion under the best circumstances into something far darker, more serious, and higher stakes than ever.

My eyes flick to the clock. I estimate I’ve got less than twenty-four hours before I need to be in Bellingham, Washington.

That’s all the time remaining to stop Durham from getting away with the unspeakable.

That’s all I have left to save my wildcat before she does something reckless.

That’s the countdown on my last chance to save my own soul.

3

Sweeter Than Candy (Fuchsia)

I never thought I’d be waiting on these two lunks again.

Gray and Leo are late. As usual. My lips twitch for a fraction of a second when I wonder if it has something to do with both of them competing for a gold medal in big bad family man of the year.

Sigh.

If I’m being honest, I never thought I’d see little old Heart’s Edge, Montana, again with its rolling hills covered in trees, its cliffs, its deep valley, and the sleepy little town skyline that barely makes a scenic blot on the dusty horizon.

Honestly, I’m not sure if Heart’s Edge—or said lunks—are jumping up and down to see me either.

I have a bit of a bad luck history with this town.

And if I’m being extra honest?

That bad luck is me.

I’ve been a black cat in the shape of a human being since the day I stepped foot here.

Every time I wander through, people die. Rampant killer viruses, explosives that ignite the whole damn night, the works—oh, but at least that last massive fire at their winter carnival wasn’t my fault.

I saw that insanity on the news. Who knew big daddy fire chief Blake Silverton had it in him to douse a crisis without my helping hand?

At least I didn’t have anything to do with starting the crisis.

For once.

You could say I’m an agent of chaos.

I prefer to think of myself as a refreshing change of pace.

Right now, though, I’m here on business, and still wanted by the local bumbling Mayberry police who handle the drunk tank in this one-horse town. So I’m as far on the outskirts of Heart’s Edge as I can possibly get, the town itself just a dark smudge on the horizon, where the highway runs along the edge of the valley’s rise.


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