Authors: Amie Stuart
NAILED ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
NAILED Copyright © 2015 Amie Stuart
Cover design and format by Dee Tenorio, Laideebug Digital.
Laideebug Digital is only responsible for the formatting, the content of this work is purely created, owned and supplied by the author.
With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written permission from author.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author's imagination and used fictitiously. The author does acknowledge the trademark status and trademark ownership of all trademarks, service marks and word marks mentioned in this book. The author does not have any control over, and does not assume any responsibility for third-party Web sites or their content.
All rights reserved worldwide. This book is licensed for your personal use only. No part of this work may be sold, manipulated, or reproduced in any format without express written permission from the authors, except for brief quotations embodied in or reviews.
Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the authors' rights. Purchase only authorized editions
Nothing, and I mean nothing, pissed me off more than having people stand around watching me work. And right now I had about a half dozen of them clustered around the pool's security gate. Dressed in bikinis, one piece swimsuits and cutoff, they shuffled from foot to foot, chatting among themselves, praying I didn't ruin their day.
You couldn't blame them, really, for wanting a swim. Not when it was 103 in the shade, but if they'd stop leaving their shit in the pool to get picked up by the filter or sucked up the drain, and stop burning up parts and…Sweat trickled down my cleavage. My head dipped under the weight of my ponytail, the aforementioned heat, and a healthy dose of frustration.
I sighed and wiped my forehead with the back of my hand, wishing
could go swimming today. August in Southwest Texas was the equivalent of a vacation in hell—in more ways than one. I'd about had it with doing apartment maintenance. Maybe it was time for me to move on, find something less taxing. Something cooler, like maybe being a supermodel or an exterminator.
I closed the cap on the poor drain thingy (technical lingo is
my forte) and crossed to the pump, switching it on. It slowly chugged to life, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I'd tried everything I could think of, and I didn't think the assembled crowd would be pleased if I had to take off for Cielo's one and only internet café for more troubleshooting. Since coming to Cielo, everything I'd ever learned about fixing
, I'd found on the internet.
I loaded up my tools and gave the assembled crowd a stern look while briefly ticking off each familiar face, then tossed Tara Woods a bikini top that looked suspiciously like the one she'd been wearing last week, except more mangled. "I'd really appreciate it if you'd keep your swimsuits out of the drain."
In addition to the swimming attire I'd finally dislodged, the pool was a particularly bilious shade of green that said too many carpet creepers had pissed in it. I didn't even bother smothering the bubble of glee as I cheerfully called out, "Pool's closed today, folks."
I'm sure in some former life I'd been a sadist, and in some future life, I'd pay for my enjoyment of their misery. In the mean time, I'd take what I could get.
Scowls, grumbles, whines, and gasps of outrage were the response I got
. Please, people, if you want to use the pool, don't piss in it!
"Thank Tara, everybody."
smirked in return and walked away. The polka dot bikini she was currently wearing barely held in her naughty bits. Of course, the only person complaining was Mrs. Hollis in 3-A. Guess she'd gotten tired of watching her thirteen-year-old wander around with a mini hard-on. He was in the laundry right this minute, washing his sheets.
Yeah, I know...ew!
Not something I wanted to spend too much time thinking about.
"Sen'rita." The sound of my assistant, Tony Ramirez's, voice got me moving. And for the record, he spoke English just fine, he just liked to keep me on my toes by playing the "dumb wetback"—his words
mine. "The Johnsons need a new garbage disposal."
Toolbox in hand, I stepped through the metal gate that surrounded the pool and let it clang shut behind me. A new garbage disposal meant a half-day trip to Home Depot, which is why we normally tried to keep at least one around for emergencies, but we'd had a run on them lately. I didn't even want to know why. Regardless, I'd come to love Home Depot as much as I'd once loved Neiman's and Saks.
Okay, not totally, but life gives you lemons and you make Lemondrop Shots.
The residents of Marquez Terrace Apartments were nothing to write home about, but then I had no home to write to anymore. No more Neiman's Christmas catalog, no more manicures, no more gourmet cooking classes, no more sister to go shopping with.
Guess that made us even.
One thing you had to understand about Cielo, Texas, and Southwest Texas in general, was that if you weren't born here, you came here to get lost. This is where Tony Ramirez had probably come to get lost, where Tara and Jeanette and maybe even Old Homer had come to get lost.
And it's why I was here.
Wynn Collier pulled into Cielo, Texas, and eased down the main drag, taking note of various landmarks. Seventeen and a half months of his life, most of it spent on the road, retracing the footsteps of a woman who'd turned out to be more clever than he'd imagined, had brought him to
. The ass-end of Texas.
He laughed softly to himself and turned down the sound of Mötley Crüe coming from the SUV's speakers.
Despite its name, Cielo was a
way from heaven. Some might even say it was pretty close to hell, being miles from anywhere and surrounded by desert. Hell indeed, even the nearest Wally World was an hour away.
Police station—four cops and the sheriff.
Volunteer fire department—with less than three thousand residents, anything that caught on fire would probably be an inferno by the time the troops were rallied.
His dark blue SUV slid past the café, three gas stations, an assortment of tourist traps disguised as antique stores, and stores selling Western/Texas'y paraphernalia that women like his mother went nuts for. Not that the town had a bustling tourist trade; it was too far off the beaten path. Which explained why his quarry had chosen it.
Nearly eighteen months of hunting down Julie Burt had brought him here, to the end of nowhere.
Most of the time, Wynn's job involved going after bad men, the dregs of society. Drug dealers, thieves, murderers, con men. People smart enough to know that when they played with fire, they risked getting burned. Not ordinary, middle-class people who believed crap like the Sopranos was purely a result of someone's overactive imagination.
He didn't kill people, much to his father's disgust, but he knew how to get information out of them.
was his job.
Hunting down people like Julie Burt and her family had left a really bad taste in his mouth. Unfortunately, he hadn't been in a position to tell his dad no. But he'd follow his dad's instructions to the letter, find Julie Burt, and discover where her sister and brother-in-law were, get the information they had so Dad could get it back to the client.
Nothing more. Nothing less.
At Main and Elm he took a left and proceeded to drive the entire town, familiarizing himself with the streets and landmarks, like the poor dinky elementary school and just a few blocks over, the equally small library next to a non-descript city hall. The houses ranged from a few single-and double-wide trailers to World War II bungalows with deep porches to modern ranch houses. Nothing fancy, though, and nothing too new.
Cielo wasn't that sort of town.
The world seemed to have passed Cielo, Texas, by. Everywhere he looked, everything seemed dead, lifeless, and flat but for the mountains shimmering in the distance. Just the type of town no self-respecting, normal person would live in; just the type of place someone could easily hide in.
But, oh, what a long way the slippery Ms. Burt had fallen. From designer suits, a Lexus, and selling commercial real estate to...a town practically burned to a charred husk by the searing heat.
He pulled his navy blue, ten-year-old Blazer, which was guaranteed to not stand out, onto the shoulder of the road with a crunch of tires on gravel. It came to a rest underneath a giant scrub oak whose oversized branches didn't even move but did provide some shade.
The beige brick apartment building across the road practically faded into the landscape. The grass around the sign was the greenest thing he'd seen since he'd left downtown. These were the best Cielo had to offer. Hell, they were
Cielo had to offer. He'd laugh if he didn't have so much riding on this job.
He saw neither hide nor hair of any humans as he pulled his digital camera from the bag on the seat beside him. He snapped pics of the four dust-covered vehicles in the parking lot then made the short drive back to his hotel.
At the Shadyside, Wynn stepped inside his darkened room, quickly closing himself off from the stifling heat, and dropped a two-inch thick file containing everything on Julie and her family onto the bed. He scrubbed a hand across his head and caught his reflection in the dresser's mirror. He looked tired. A lot more tired and older than he really was. And if his mother could see him, she'd say he needed a haircut.
He spent the rest of the afternoon going over his notes, and thanks to his wireless card, shot the photos he'd taken to his mother. He knew better than to hope that a motel in the middle of nowhere would have decent internet, let alone wireless, so he'd brought his own. Judging from his room's gold and avocado furnishings and the nightmare-inducing bedspread covering the queen sized bed, he was lucky they even had HBO.
When he'd done all he could, he stretched out on the bed with the file. Julie Burt, formerly a successful commercial realtor in Scottsdale, Arizona, had up and disappeared within hours of her sister's apparent death. He'd been tapped for the job when the first two "companies" had failed to produce Julie or her sister, Karen Lyons.
In the ensuing months he'd come to admire Julie's resiliency and her ability to stay a free woman, to stay under the radar. But the clock was ticking, and the client was turning the screws, wanting the job finished in two weeks. He didn't know why, and he didn't care. It wasn't Wynn's place to ask why. It was his place to do his job and, if possible, get out undetected. Life was less painful that way.
He dozed off, bothered by dark dreams of Julie and buzzards, until the phone ringing woke him up. Outside the tightly closed curtains, a bit of red-tinged light seeped in, alerting him to the coming night.
"Does an eighty-four Corolla look as bad as it sounds?" his mother asked, referring to one of the license-plate photos he'd sent her.
"It's a nice shade of rust, with a little sky blue for accent." Smiling, he sat up and took a swig from the bottle of water on the nightstand. It was warm but wet, which was all that mattered. "Any of those cars belong to Julie?"
"You didn't think she'd have one registered under her real name." Her chuckle was a rusty but comforting sound.
"Of course not, but everyone slips up eventually."
"True. I gather you haven't found Ms. Burt yet, then?"
"Not yet." He sighed, thinking of the job ahead.
"You'll be fine, dear. I have
confidence in you," she reassured him. They could have been talking about a job promotion he was up for, not the latest assignment his father had thrown his way.
Hunting down Julie Burt wasn't much more than table scraps in the scheme of things but (a) it kept his father off his back, and (b) it gave Wynn a chance to redeem himself after botching that last job. He honestly hadn't meant to blow off three of Doug Garrofolo's toes. Matter of fact, he normally didn't even work with guns, preferring more subtle means of persuasion than his father and brothers. But his oldest brother, John, who had come along to supervise, had insisted Wynn carry.
The Colliers were men of few words who usually let their guns speak for them, and as such, they had fine reputations as hitmen.
Then there was him, Wynn, the bane of his gun-toting father's existence. To be honest, he preferred to use his intimidating 6'5" height and muscular body (and well-known name) speak for him. Wynn enjoyed the challenge of getting what he wanted or needed from people by using his wits and words, not violence—unless it was absolutely necessary. When faced with one of his ham-sized fists, most people didn't put up much of a fuss, and if they did, well, it didn't take much arm twisting to convince them to give up the goods.