Come Back (Dirty, Dark, and Deadly #2)


by J.A. Huss

Chapter One - James

A kid.

I squint at the feral girl sitting on top of a rolling ridge across the prairie and revise.

A teen.

Which is even worse.

I grab my binoculars and focus on her face. She’s scowling at me, her dark blonde hair littered with leaves and twigs. I pan down to her outfit. She’s a poster child for a surplus store. She looks like she’s been living out here on the scrub for weeks instead of days.

And that is not a good sign.

I press the button and the window on my side of the truck lowers. I give her a few seconds to say something. Yell or stand. Something. But she just sits there, staring at me. Her long ratty hair is blowing in the wind and her face is streaked with dirt. There’s a little bit of smoke rising from the ridge behind her.

I whistle out a shrill call and yell, “Let’s f**king go!”

The wind blows my words away and she sits still, so I figure she didn’t hear me. But then—movement. She raises her hand like she’s gonna wave. I even have a split second of relief.

She flips me off, stands up, swats the dirt from her ass, and then turns and walks down the ridge. Out of sight.

“Fucking Merc,” I mumble under my breath as I put the truck in park and open the door to go chase after her. He sent me some GPS coordinates last week and told me to pick up a package for him. I’m a few days late because of Harper, but that ass**le said package. He never said kid.

It’s early morning, the sun is barely rising off to the east, and the frost that gathered on the short prickly plants overnight is beginning to melt, making my boots slick as I trudge over to grab the girl.

I do not owe Merc this favor. My debt was cleared months ago. But having Merc owe me a favor is something I can’t afford to pass up. I need to get Harper’s shit straight with the Admiral and get on with this job. I’m up against a deadline and since all my friends in the Company are now officially dead, Merc is really my only option when it comes to outside help.

So I make my way across the Colorado prairie, heading after this little shit who thinks she can flip me off, and my temper is building to a crescendo when I make it to the top of the little ridge she was sitting on.

I look down at her camp. What’s left of her camp.

There is a pile of dirt covering what might have been the little fire she had going and a few bent-over blades of grass where she might have slept last night. But other than that, it’s bare.

The gun is in my hand before all these thoughts even process as I scan the landscape. She picked a good spot, I’ll give her that. These rolling hills are perfect. All you gotta do is lie flat on the other side of one to make yourself invisible. “Merc sent me,” I yell. “I’m supposed to pick you up.” I back down the ridge a little and squat to the ground. I’m not sure who this kid is, but I can take a good guess.

Sasha.

Orphaned last Christmas and sent to live with her grandparents, she’s Merc’s responsibility because he’s the one who got her father killed. I’d heard that the grandparents’ ranch was set on fire this past spring, killing everyone on the property after a propane tank exploded. But I was too busy with my own shitstorm of problems to care if this low-level Company kid was among the dead.

Clearly she was not.

“Sasha!” I yell. “Merc f**king sent me. Now get your ass—” An arrow goes whizzing by my head and I duck to the ground and flatten myself out. “What the f**k—”

“You’re lucky,” she yells back at me from off to my right. “I’m not a very good archer. I have a gun too, and I promise you. I do not miss.”

Jesus f**king Christ. What is with the girls these days? Since when are they all wannabe assassins? “Sasha, calm the f**k down. I’m here because Merc sent me. I’m supposed to hold on to you—”

“Hold on to me?” She snorts off to the left now, and she’s a lot closer than she was. “I’m not his property.”

I sniper-crawl over another ridge off to my right, peek, then spot the top of her dirty blonde hair one ridge over as she makes her way back where she started out. She’s not a bad stalker. And she’s fearless too. If she thinks I’ll let her off because she’s a kid, she’s dead wrong. Or maybe she’ll just be dead.

“I’ll leave you here if you want, you crazy little shit, but first we’re gonna make a phone call so I can collect on my favor. I didn’t come a thousand miles for nothing.”

As soon as I stop talking I bolt for another hill off to the left, pop my head up and see zilch, then make another mad dash one ridge over.

This time I smile because she’s right in front of me.

“I don’t want to talk to that ass**le—”

I pounce on her from behind before she can finish her sentence. She groans as I take her to the ground, winding my leg around her middle so I can pin her down, and then I grab her arm at the bicep and press against her elbow. “Hold still, Assassin Smurf,” I growl into her ear. “Or I will snap this elbow.”

She struggles for a moment but I apply more pressure and she cries out in pain.

“I’m not f**king around. I don’t know if Merc let you get away with this bullshit, but I’m Tet. And if you ever threaten me again, I’ll snap your puny little neck.”

She stops struggling at that remark and I lean into her harder just in case she’s trying to lead me into a false sense of security. She’s as bad as f**king Harper. Who the f**k authorized this girl’s father to train her? From what I know of him, he was an arms dealer. Code name Rancher. Which makes this girl more than a nobody, but not by much. Just another girl to be given away to just another boy who would then be tied to the Company for life.

“Sasha?” I ask, once her breathing has mellowed out and she’s been still for a minute or so. “Are you Sasha?”

She doesn’t answer me.

“I’m Tet. We can do this one of two ways. You come with me and I hand you over to Merc. Or I kill you and tell him you were eaten by wolves.”

“There’s no wolves out here,” she snorts.

“Oh, yes, little girl. There are. And there’s one on top of you right the f**k now.” I feel her stiffen under me and I allow myself a smile. “Now, are you ready to do as you’re told? Or should I just end this now? Because I need to get back on the road either way. With you or without you, I’m heading south in five minutes.”

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