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Game Plan: A Kira Brightwell Novel (Kira Brightwell Book 4)

Game Plan: A Kira Brightwell Novel (Kira Brightwell Book 4)

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Kira Brightwell knows how to bring it—whether facing an opponent in the cage, or chasing down a criminal on a case.

Finally, four years after her abduction escape, she holds a tenuous link to the Procurer. A link that leaves her with more questions than answers. Questions that lead to unexpected places.

But Kira knows the serial abductor stopped underestimating her a long time ago.

...And she needs to tread carefully if she wants to outwit him.

The ongoing game of cat-and-mouse between Kira and the Procurer picks up the pace in this suspenseful fourth novel in the Kira Brightwell mystery series.

(Originally published under the pen name Kat Irwin.)

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Chapter One

The boy pushed a flop of sandy blond hair from his eyes as he trudged up the hill. Ancient trees towered over him. The only sounds were the shuffle of his feet through the undergrowth, the calls of distant birds, and the steady rush of his own breathing in his ears. The light of the afternoon sun filtered through the leaves above as he walked, shafts of golden light punctuating the forest floor.

An odd feeling of déjà vu struck him, making him pause.

I’ve been here before.

He was dreaming.

Yes, that was it. He struggled for a moment to regain consciousness, even though he knew it was futile—it always was once the dream had begun.

The fleeting moment of self-awareness passed and he descended deeper, his memories of the present forgotten.

He had been walking for over an hour. His uncle’s cabin was far from school, and there were no buses. Uncle Russ didn’t like him going to school in the first place, so getting a ride wasn’t an option either. A strange sense of foreboding fell over him as he thought of his uncle—almost as if part of him knew something bad was going to happen and was dreading it. He shook his head and kept going.

He was sweaty from the long walk. The cuffs of his jeans were stiff with dirt. They hung almost an inch above his ankles. His T-shirt wasn’t much better. It had been white once, but now it was more of a brownish-gray. His uncle wasn’t nearly as good about laundry and buying new clothes as his mother had been. The boy suppressed a sigh. It was only one of many things that made him an outcast from the other kids at school. He didn’t particularly care what most of them thought of him, but he disliked being dirty. He would have to try washing in the river again, maybe when Uncle Russ was asleep.

He reached the top of the steep hill, which opened into a small clearing. His footsteps slowed. Uncle Russ’s pickup truck was parked beside the crude log cabin. Usually, he would still be out running errands, but today he was home early. The boy’s stomach tightened. Muffled screams coming from inside the squat shed beside the cabin confirmed his suspicions.

His uncle had gone hunting again.

The muffled screams and pleading became ragged. The boy froze. He hadn’t thought his uncle would go hunting without him. People tended to be more trusting when a child was around. They were quicker to let their guard down. It had been easy enough to see once Uncle Russ had explained it to him. He had thought if he just kept going to school...

Well, clearly he had been wrong.

The screams didn’t bother him. He had heard them enough times before. The voices might be slightly different, but the blind panic behind them was always the same.

No, what bothered him was his uncle wanting him to become more... involved in his extracurricular activities. Uncle Russ’s clients paid well enough for his services, and he was fairly decent at his job, but the money didn’t matter to him. Oh, he enjoyed his work, that was certain. No, all he cared about was the cover it provided him to collect his own bonus, as it were. His enthusiasm was unnerving. Not only that, but it was stupid. Yes, Uncle Russ was careful, but hunting should never be personal. Each ‘bonus’ he took was an unnecessary risk that could ultimately lead to his exposure.

The screaming came to an abrupt stop.

The boy looked up. The shed door opened and his Uncle Russ came out, fumbling with the buckle of his belt. He shook out his curly, blond mullet and flashed a sleek-looking smile.

“You’re finally home,” he said. “Too bad you didn’t get here a bit earlier. She was a real live one.” He cocked his head toward the door of the cabin.

The boy flushed, but remained silent.

“It’s been a good season,” his uncle continued. “Lots of runaways and tourists coming through town. I figure it couldn’t hurt to take another one between jobs. It’s been too long since the last one.”

Most of his uncle’s clients were particular about their ‘packages’ being unspoiled, much to the boy’s relief.

“Anyway, you’re thirteen now,” Uncle Russ said into the awkward silence. “Practically a man!” He clapped his nephew on the shoulder. “Tell you what, the next bonus that comes along is all yours.” He flashed one of those charming smiles that always seemed to make women smile back at him, even though it didn’t quite reach his pale-blue eyes.

The boy considered saying something, but thought the better of it. He knew from experience he would never be able to get his uncle to understand his reluctance to take part in the spoils. It was a waste of time. Instead, he swallowed and nodded.

“Good man.” His uncle gave his shoulder another hardy pat. “Now you’d better go in there and get the shovel. We’re going to need another hole.”

The boy squared his shoulders and walked toward the shed.

He knew what he would find waiting inside.

Chapter Two

The living room was clean, for once. Kira surveyed her handiwork with an air of satisfaction. Rob’s scattered piles of clean and dirty clothes had been carted off to the laundry room, revealing the cream colored carpet in its entirety for the first time she could remember. She had even rented a steam cleaner to commemorate the occasion. No dirty dishes or Cheetos bags littered the dining-room table, and most incredibly of all, Rob’s laptop was closed.

Rob was still in his usual chair, within easy reach of the precious computer he had dubbed Princess Leia. He was wearing a clean hoodie, and his unruly brown curls were still damp from the shower. His face gleamed from a recent shave. Despite his abnormally respectable appearance, his expression was strained as he huddled in his chair while his parents hovered over him, speaking rapidly in Spanish.

Kira could guess the nature of their ‘discussion’—if one could call it that—even though she sat just out of earshot. Rob’s parents loved their son dearly, but they had a hard time understanding his desire to earn a living as what was more politely known as a ‘white-hat hacker’ instead of following in his father’s footsteps to go into teaching. Due to Rob’s extreme antisocial ways, they rarely saw their son, so this was a perfect opportunity for them to express their opinions.

I probably should have thought of that.

Kira felt a twinge of guilt. She had planned this party for Rob’s benefit—mostly, at least. He had been her best friend since high school, and his family had always treated her like one of their own. Every year since Rob had moved out, Kira had made plans with Rob’s mother to bring him back to his childhood home for a few hours to celebrate his birthday. Every year, Rob would suddenly find himself stuck with some high-priority job that just couldn’t wait. Kira doubted it was a coincidence. Other than a life-or-death situation that had occurred just before she had moved in, she doubted Rob had ever left the apartment.

This year, she was determined that things would be different. If Rob wouldn’t go to the mountain, she would bring the mountain to Rob. She had bullied him mercilessly into helping her get the apartment decent for guests, using several stock images and video loops of dirty or diseased feet as leverage. Rob knew his laptop wouldn’t be safe for browsing until after the party was over—unless he suddenly managed to get over his lifetime foot phobia.

“Thanks for doing all this,” a teenage girl said as she approached with a second girl in tow.

Kira blinked. Rob’s sisters were a year apart in age, but they might as well have been twins. Both took after their tall, lean father, but they had their mother’s dark curls, which fell well past their shoulders. They were even wearing matching blue sundresses. Kira felt somewhat underdressed by comparison, even though she was wearing her best pair of jeans and her dressiest tank top instead of her usual Nine Inch Nails T-shirt. She was even wearing her long, brown hair down for the occasion, much to her own annoyance. It weighed heavily against her neck, and she had to resist the urge to pull it back into its usual ponytail.

She smiled at the taller of the two girls who had spoken—Gabriela. “My pleasure. I just wish I had thought of it sooner.”

“How did you manage to get him all cleaned up?” The shorter girl wrinkled her nose. “Our basement is still funky from when he lived down there.”

“I have my ways.” Kira gave Ana a wink.

Despite her seemingly casual attitude, Kira was anxious. In addition to cleaning up Rob’s usual cyclone of disaster, she had also been forced to stow away all the information she and Rob had gathered on the Procurer. The Missing poster of Nadine Parker Kira had found ripped up and burning when she had escaped from Carlo Traversa, the missing page from Clarissa Hunt’s journal with the name ‘Nadine’ scrawled over and over, plus the crime scene photo Kira had seen of the name ‘Nadine’ carved in the room where Clarissa had been held captive by the Procurer... Kira knew they were onto something. The woman in the Missing poster had disappeared from Redcliffe, Nevada in 1988.

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