MONTANA BOUNTY HUNTERS:
DEAD HORSE, MT
Authentic Men… Real Adventures…
An ex-Special Forces bounty hunter has to find a way to repair his friendship with the agency’s prickly tech guru while not falling in love with her…
Gabriel Pelletier can’t read women. Hell, he didn’t know his ex-wife had been seeing another man until she cleaned out the apartment while he was deployed. Somehow, he’s managed to offend the Montana Bounty Hunters’ tech guru, and everyone around him is telling him to fix it!
Ex-Army Fredericka “Fig” Newton has always navigated working with men by repelling them before she attracts unwanted attention. She temporarily lost her mind trying to befriend Gabriel when he joined the agency. Sure, he’s cute, and while everyone around her has found their happy-ever-after, she thought, just maybe, she could find hers with him. But nope. All her friendly overtures blew up in her face. So, it’s back to prickly Fig. Besides, they have a bad guy to take down and no time for romance.
Read an Excerpt
Gabriel Pelletier was pretty sure something had changed. Not that he was a deeply intuitive man—at least, not when it came to women. However, he was one hundred percent sure something was different about the bounty hunter’s office admin and operations guru, Fredericka Newton.
For one thing, she’d insisted that very morning that he call her “Fig” like everyone else in the agency did—her delivery crisp, her lips firm. And she’d hit him with that as he’d poured his first cup of coffee before the morning meeting had even begun.
When she’d turned on her heel and left him with his jaw sagging and wondering what bee had crawled up her ass, he’d seen Chase’s black eyebrows rise and his lips purse, had noted Cowboy’s grimace and Cage’s slow blink. Worse, Marti had been doing her best after her initial snort not to bust a gut laughing while her man Hardman shushed her with a glare.
Gabe had thought he’d had a budding friendship with Fredericka…er, Fig. “Fredericka” had been the name she’d given him when he’d first arrived after he’d received the invitation from Cage Morgan to join the agency. He’d sat across from Fig’s desk, filling out forms, while she’d kept up a light patter of conversation, which he’d learned later from the rest of the hunters was highly unusual. The Fig they knew was all about the job, hyper-focused, no chitchat. And yet, she’d been friendly with him. Soft and warm-looking, too—something he’d mentioned to his partner, Eli Pope, who’d done his level best to hold back a grin, especially when Gabe had mentioned just how nice “Fredericka” was.
Today, he’d finally seen what the rest of the crew saw when they looked at Fig.
Her expression had been set as she’d reviewed the details about their latest high-dollar target. Her words blunt and to the point. She’d been completely professional but a little cold.
While she’d always used a light touch with makeup since he’d met her—just a swipe of cherry lip-gloss (he’d loved the sweet scent), a hint of color on her cheeks, a little mascara—this morning, her face had been devoid of any enhancements. Even the cherry gloss was gone. She’d still been cute as hell, but not as…well, approachable…as he’d come to expect.
They’d all been called in for an early morning meeting before heading out en masse to retrieve one mean motherfucker by the name of Arnold Paxton. He’d skipped his court date for an assault charge, instead opting to march on the Montana state capital building with his Proud Boy-wannabe brothers. After trashing every business with a name he didn’t like and scuffling with cops on the capital’s steps, he’d gone into hiding.
Fig had gotten a call from the agency’s owner, Fetch Winter, saying that he had good intel concerning where Arnold Paxton was but that getting him out of his group’s compound would be tricky and might require some serious firepower.
Which was why most of the hunters from the Dead Horse office were currently sitting in the woods twenty miles from Lander, Wyoming. An eight-foot-high game fence surrounded the property where their target was hiding, with signs depicting an AR-15 and the warning “Will Shoot” posted all along the fence line.
At the moment, they were gathered on the side of a dirt road while fellow hunter Chase Kudrow was operating a small drone to fly over the compound located a quarter-mile inside the fence. He and Fig were standing in front of the open back gate of the operations van while they studied the monitor she’d set on the floor, showing what the drone was capturing of the compound’s layout below. Despite the fact the sun was an hour away from rising, stark outlines of dark buildings against pale, snow-covered ground came into view.
“See there?” Cage said, pointing a finger toward the screen. “Fetch’s source thinks he’s in that last cabin.” He pointed at the last cabin in a row of cabins that had once been the Middle Fork River Campground but was now the home of the Wyoming Reservists—a white nationalist group enjoying a growing reputation in the region—all of it bad.
The drone lowered and hovered next to a window, but the cabin’s interior was dark until Chase hit a button, and the screen turned green. Using the drone’s night vision capability, a bed with a large lump in the middle came into view. The lump was facing the far wall. Of course, they couldn’t be lucky enough to have Arnold facing the window so they could be sure the lump was their guy.
Chase brought the drone high again, high enough that they could see all ten structures, including the office building at the center with an adjacent parking lot.
“I count eight SUVs and trucks,” Cowboy said.
“So we’d be facing a minimum of eight armed and motivated assholes.” Cage scraped a hand over his short dark hair. “Unless we can positively identify Paxton, we won’t have probable cause to enter private property.”
Fig glanced toward Cage. “We can’t keep flying drones, waiting for Paxton to step outside. Someone’s going to notice. We need to set up some fixed surveillance inside that compound while we still have the cover of darkness.”
Cage’s eyes narrowed while he watched the screen.
Gabe knew that Cage didn’t like the fact they’d be trespassing to set up cameras. He also didn’t like the idea of the hunters coming up against so many armed men.
Cage shook his head. “I’ll say yes to the surveillance. But no one gets close to the cabins. Cameras on the road, on the river. One on this area with the picnic tables,” he said, pointing toward a common area in the middle of the cabins. “We may be here a while because we need to catch this bastard when we aren’t facing a dozen gunmen. If he leaves, we catch him on the open road. If his friends leave, we infiltrate and do our best to avoid an armed confrontation.”
The group standing around him nodded.
“Good thing I booked the motel for a week,” Fig muttered.
“We’ll have to move the van around,” Cage said, “unless we can find a spot with lots of cover, off road.” His gaze went to Gabe, and there might have been a little gleam of humor in his eyes. “You work with Fig on finding that spot.”
“Boy’s too young to find it,” Chase rasped, then faked a cough.
Gabe cleared his throat. “On it, boss.”
“Enthusiasm can trump experience,” Marti drawled. When Hardman’s head slow-turned toward her, she shrugged. “Just sayin’. I’m rooting for him.”
Fig rolled her eyes. “I can find my own damn spot.”
“But why would you want to?” Marti quipped.
Chase bent and gripped his knees while he chortled. “Hardman,” he said, lifting his finger while trying to catch his breath, “can’t you do something about her?”
Hardman wrinkled his nose. “Nope. And I wouldn’t want to try.”
Gabe shook his head, glad of the darkness hiding his hot cheeks. The hunters loved to rib each other, but this was the first time they’d targeted him. He found it hard to look at Fig given the sexual nature of their jibes.
He cleared his throat. “Soon as the sun comes up, one of you needs to monitor the feed from the surveillance cameras we’ll be setting up. Fig and I will go on recon to find the perfect spot.” Inwardly, he groaned, then quickly amended, “For the van.”
Cowboy clapped a hand on his shoulder, his shoulders shaking with repressed laughter. “Take your time, man. We’re all rootin’ for you.”
“Jesus Christ,” Fig muttered. “Bunch of horny twelve-year-olds. We still have cameras to set up.”
“She’s right,” Cage said. “Chase and Cowboy, you head back to the motel and try to rest up. You’ll be on surveillance tonight.” He turned to Marti and Hardman. “How about you hit the bars tonight and see what you can find out about the Reservists.”
Marti’s eyebrows rose. “Should be fun. Want to place a bet on how many people in the bar have seen my naked takedown video?”
Hardman groaned. “I’ll make sure she wears a beanie and some makeup so she’s not outted the second we walk through the door.”
“Think they won’t recognize you, Hard-man?” Marti said with a sly grin.
Hardman shrugged, and his mouth twisted in disgust. “If we’re made, we’ll roll with it. It’s worked for us before. Everyone wants to help a celebrity hunter.”
Cage turned to Eli and Gabe. “You two need to get inside that fence. Work with Fig to make sure she has the views she needs.”
Fig nodded. “I can work a drone to figure out the best placement and send you the GPS coordinates. Use earpieces so I can supervise the camera angles.” She climbed into the back of the van, Cage following her inside, and the remaining hunters around Gabe began to disperse.
Her tone had been all business, and her gaze had landed on Eli, barely encompassing Gabe. Yeah, something was up. How the hell had he pissed her off? Things had been going great between them, or so he’d thought. She’d even ridden shotgun with him a few days ago when he’d had some quick pick-ups of people who’d missed mandatory drug tests.
Things had seemed to go sour after he’d paid her the highest compliment he could for a woman. He’d been burned bad by his ex-wife and had been leery of getting involved with another woman. So, he’d been relieved to find someone like Fredericka. Someone who understood men and could hold her own in their environment. He’d felt comfortable enough to tell her so.
“It’s funny,” he remembered saying.
“What is?” she’d asked, the beginnings of a smile on her face.
“How you run that office. All these heavy-duty ex-military types—you hold your own and keep them all in line. I admire that.”
“You do?” she said, turning toward him. Her pretty gray eyes were wide.
“Hell, yeah. You’re what? A hundred pounds soaking wet, but they all listen when you speak. They respect you. They see you as an equal member of the team.”
“So…you like me because I’m one of the boys…?”
That wasn’t exactly what he’d meant, and something about the way she’d said that, or maybe the way her eyes had narrowed, had made him feel instantly unsettled. “Well…yeah.”
The second he’d said those two words, her demeanor had changed. Her chin had jutted upward, and her soft gray gaze had gone flinty—almost the same dark silver as cold steel.
Since then, they hadn’t shared coffee at her desk or any private conversations at all. He missed that. He’d screwed something up and didn’t know how to fix it.
Or even whether he should. Obviously, he was the world’s worst at reading a woman.
Eli moved back to his truck which was parked behind the ops van. He returned with a bolt-cutting tool. Since they were already armed and wearing their Kevlar, all that was left was to flick the switches on their earpieces.
“Testing,” Eli said.
“Testing,” Gabe parroted.
“I got you both, loud and clear,” Fig said, then appeared in the doorway holding a black canvas bag which she tossed to Eli. “Cameras.” Then she turned quickly and closed the van’s back door, shutting them out.
Eli’s eyebrows rose, but he shouldered the bag and moved away. Gabe followed Eli as he walked to the fence and quickly cut a hole in it. When he ducked through the bent-back wire, he pushed aside any lingering thoughts of Fig and whatever the hell he’d done to offend her. They had cameras to install—all without alerting anyone inside the encampment that they were there and being surveilled.
He grabbed a fallen tree branch with several brush-like smaller branches and swept the snow behind them to hide their prints.
Ahead, Eli paused and checked the compass on his watch before stepping out again.
The wind picked up, carrying a flurry of hard, crystalline sleet that bit his cheeks. Gabe pulled his knit hat down over his ears.
“Damn, I’m bringing the drone back,” Fig said in his ear. “Wind’s picking up. But I have a picture of the compound, and I’ve superimposed coordinates.” She named the first set of coordinates where they would install a surveillance camera.
“Setting my GPS,” Eli said, then trudged forward again.
They arrived at the location and quickly withdrew the first camera, setting it up on a tree overlooking the road leading into the campground.
“Good picture,” Fig said. “Maybe tilt it downward another fifteen degrees.”
They made the adjustment, and she confirmed the view was good. They moved on to the next set of coordinates.
An hour passed, and they finished the last installation in a tree overlooking a boat dock.
“Who the hell would get on the water in these temperatures?” Gabe muttered.
“If all other escape routes are closed…”
“Yeah,” Fig said. “The cameras aren’t exactly cheap, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
“We gonna have a boat ready to give chase?” Gabe asked.
“Not in the plans, but we can watch Paxton’s direction and try to catch him at a bridge.”
Gabe shrugged. “Guess that’s it then,” he said. “Fig, we’re heading back your way.”
They followed the river bank then cut straight through a wooded area. Again, he brushed at their footsteps. No use letting anyone who might be out there hunting or doing a perimeter check know that someone else had been there. Besides, old habits died hard. He’d spent time with Special Forces at Fort Carson, Colorado, and knew how to mask a trail in the snow.
Eli tapped his earpiece then raised his eyebrows.
Gabe tapped his earpiece, too, cutting the transmission while wondering why Eli didn’t want Cage and Fig to hear them.
“So, what did you do to piss off Fig?” Eli asked.
Gabe frowned. Eli wasn’t one to gossip like most of the rest of the hunters were, but they were partners. He supposed it was fair for Eli to wonder whether there was something he should know about. “I haven’t got a clue.”
Eli resumed his pace, not looking back at Gabe. “You had to have noticed when she turned into an iceberg,” he said, his voice low.
Gabe blew out a breath. “Well, we were talking that day I took her out on a ride-along. I was feeling…good. I told her I liked the fact she was easy to talk to. I might’ve said talking to her was like talking to one of the guys…”
Eli coughed. “You didn’t.”
Gabe grimaced. “It was meant as a compliment.”
“Fig might seem like a different kind of female, she’s ex-Army, same as you, but she’s still a woman. I can’t imagine telling her she’s great, just like one of the guys, went over real well.”
Gabe’s shoulders sank. “I’m not good at talking with women, which is why this is bothering me. Fig’s the first woman I’ve felt comfortable with in a long while.”
“Since your ex, who cleaned out your place while you were deployed?” Eli said, amusement in his voice.
“Yeah, down to the landline telephone we didn’t even use.”
“So, you’ve got trust issues.”
“I don’t want to be fooled like that again.”
“And your confidence is shot.”
“She was screwing around with her boss, and I never saw it coming.”
“Fig’s not your ex-wife. I’m sure she’s seen the Dear John stories firsthand, and I can’t imagine she’d have been okay with what your wife did.”
“I never thought she’d be…like that.”
“You need to figure out how to fix this,” Eli said. “Do it for the team. When Fig’s out of sorts, everyone feels it.”
Gabe nodded. “She’s been grumpy as hell.”
“The coffee was ten times stronger than usual—not that it’s her job to make it, but damn, I felt like I was drinking ten-day-old espresso.”
“I never tasted it this morning. I was too busy wondering where Fredericka had gone,” he muttered.
Eli glanced back and gave him a crooked smile. “Figure it out.” Then he tapped his ear. “Yeah, Fig, I’m here. Not sure what happened.”
Gabe tapped his in time to hear Fig say, “Folks are stirring in the camp. Get your asses back here now!”
Dawn crept up from the edge of the horizon, and Eli and Gabe hurried back to the hole in the fence, using wire to quickly close the opening. Then they jogged back toward the van and opened the back door.
Cage and Fig were seated at the long bench that held four computer monitors offering several different views of the cabins, river, and road on the screens.
Fig’s attention was on a tablet she held. The screen was divided into smaller windows showing the same views as the monitors. As Gabe watched, she tapped one of the small windows, and the image filled the tablet’s screen. “All set,” she said, handing the tablet to Cage.
Cage glanced at Gabe and Eli. “Eli, you’re with me. I’d like to head back to town and get some breakfast. We can monitor the feeds using this,” he said, tapping the tablet.
His gaze swung to Gabe and then Fig. “Find someplace to park this van. We’ll need it close enough for you to monitor the transmissions and fly your drones but hidden from the Reservists’ view. Let me know where you land.”
Gabe drew a deep breath and gave Cage a nod, not daring to look at Fig. She might be a little more intuitive than he was, and he didn’t dare let her know, not by a glance or his expression, that he was determined to mend their relationship. It was time that he and Fredericka had a little talk.