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In the Clinch: A Kira Brightwell Novel (Kira Brightwell Book 5)

In the Clinch: A Kira Brightwell Novel (Kira Brightwell Book 5)

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Kira Brightwell never thought it would come to this.

So close! With the origins of the serial abductor known as the Procurer finally unraveled, her nemesis finally seemed within reach...

Until he pulled the rug out from under her.

Her ties to family and friends sacrificed in her obsessive quest for vengeance, Kira finds herself isolated and alone. An easy target for someone like the Procurer—if she chooses to continue to pursue him.

A single question remains.

How much more does she want to lose?

Kira’s search for the Procurer takes an unexpected turn in this gripping fifth novel from the Kira Brightwell mystery series.

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Darren Slade had been a model inmate during his time on the inside. Yes, there had been a few incidents toward the beginning of his incarceration. Somehow, word had gotten out about the exact nature of his capture. He suspected a blabbermouth cop had passed the story along to one of the prison guards. Halloween or not, it wasn’t every day someone claimed to have been attacked by a pair of people dressed up as characters from a cartoon from the Eighties. Word of the mystery cheetah woman in particular had spread quickly throughout the prison, which meant Slade had been forced to take certain steps to protect his reputation.

But that had been over four years ago. After securing his place in the pecking order, he had settled down and focused on getting back outside. Now here he was, on the outskirts of downtown Phoenix, fiddling with a rusted lock on the side door to an abandoned commercial garage.

He risked a glance over his shoulder as he worked. This was a rougher part of the city. He wasn’t the only one participating in illicit activity. A thug on the corner in a ball cap and oversized jacket was in close conversation with a younger man in ripped jeans. Both wore furtive expressions. Slade knew if he bothered to keep watching, he would see money and merchandise pass hands.

As the sun began to set behind the urban sprawl of buildings, a few women wandered out onto the sidewalk in cheap finery—short, tight skirts and fishnets, topped by faux fur coats in a riot of color against the approaching chill of the late fall evening. Their cheap perfume wafted toward him on the breeze, not quite masking the steamy concoction of sewer gasses and rotting garbage from a nearby dumpster.

Slade turned his back on them and went back to his work. Yes, this was a rough part of the city, but it also meant it was likely only a matter of time before a cop car cruised by. He found himself turning every time he heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. He gave the stubborn lock one last wiggle of his makeshift lock pick and it finally gave way. He slipped inside the windowless metal door and closed it firmly behind him.

The interior of the garage was dark and silent. His hand hovered over the worn metal handle of the knife tucked into the back of his jeans as his eyes and ears adjusted.

Nothing.

He let out a slow breath and straightened.

Time to see whether Frank was blowing smoke up my ass.

Slade reached for the light switch by the door. Nothing happened when he flipped it. He hadn’t really expected it to work. The garage had been out of business for almost a decade and no one had bothered to buy the place. He unslung his canvas knapsack from his shoulder and rummaged through its meager contents. It only took a moment to find what he was looking for. There was a soft click as he turned on his newly acquired flashlight. He used its narrow beam to trace around the large room.

He was in the back of the garage, where the cars would have been repaired. A pair of large garage doors faced the direction of the street to allow vehicles access. The walls were lined with dusty tools. Sets of hydraulic jacks pitted the concrete floor. A narrow hallway across the garage led into the darkness of what he assumed was the office and storefront area.

The truck was right where Frank had said it would be.

The ’98 beige Silverado pickup was covered with grime. His former cellmate had promised him the truck wasn’t hot. The last thing Slade needed was to be pulled over for driving a stolen vehicle. He walked across the garage floor, his footsteps echoing softly against the concrete in the yawning, empty space.

The truck was unlocked.

Slade turned off the flashlight. He hopped into the cab and threw his backpack on the passenger seat with a dull thump. The air inside the truck was dry and stale, smelling faintly of old cigarettes. He reached up and flipped down the sun visor overhead. A set of keys jingled down into his lap. He slipped one of them into the ignition.

It took a moment for the engine to turn, but it eventually rumbled to life. The headlights flooded the garage, making him blink. He checked the glowing display of the fuel gauge. A slow smile spread across his lean face. The tank was still half full. He ran a hand over his slicked back, blond hair. Everything was going according to plan.

He turned off the engine but left the headlights on before sliding back out onto the concrete floor. The filthy state of the truck would only draw attention. He took off his leather jacket and threw it in the cab before rummaging around a workbench. He found a large rag that looked relatively clean. The water supply would have been turned off long ago, but the rag was better than nothing.

He circled the truck, wiping it down as much as possible. He would stop at a car wash later, but he wanted to put some distance between him and the city first. It would be dark soon anyway. He smiled to himself as he worked.

Finally. He had been patient, and things were finally going his way.

Once he was satisfied with his handiwork, he tossed the rag aside and hopped back into the truck. He reached down beside the driver’s seat to fiddle with the levers. He was considerably taller than the last owner. He adjusted the rear-view mirror, catching a glimpse of his own hard, gray gaze in the process before settling it in place.

His eyes drifted to the passenger seat. His backpack had fallen open. An unmarked journal with a worn, blue cover and dog-eared pages peeked out at him. He reached up to turn on the truck’s interior lights and closed his fingers around the familiar edges of the journal, flipping it open.

The pages inside were filled with newspaper clippings and notes. Most had been cut from the La Valentia Post. All of them had to do with her.

She was the reason he had been arrested. Yes, the gig working for the mayor had already started to go sideways, but he would have gotten away clean, if not for her. He would deal with her little hacker friend too, no mistake. He had been the one to spill the beans on the child pornography ring to the cops in the first place. Slade’s lips stretched in a smile that did not meet his eyes. Maybe he would even make her watch. Kiddie porn had never been his thing, but it had been a good paying job. And having a connection inside the local force hadn’t hurt either. With the mayor paying his salary and a dirty cop on his side, life in La Valentia had been pretty sweet.

But she had ruined it all.

He and Pete had been arrested after being knocked unconscious and trussed up for the cops to find. Pete had gotten off easy though. He had no priors, and had been more than willing to cooperate. Slade wasn’t so lucky. An outstanding warrant on a murder charge in Arizona had sealed his fate—all thanks to her.

Slade was the only member of his team to suffer long-term consequences from the incident with La Valentia’s mayor. Word on the street was that the other two jokers that had made up the mayor’s special security force had skipped town right after the dirty cop had killed the mayor, and then himself. No one had even known to look for the other pair of men, since the four of them had split up earlier that evening. The girl and her hacker friend knew, of course. But they weren’t telling. They had blown the whole operation wide open and walked away. The police hadn’t bothered to look for them—not after Pete had spilled the unlikely story about being taken down by a mystery duo dressed up as ThunderCats. With an Internal Affairs nightmare, and disgraced and murdered mayor on their hands, the local precinct wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth.

But Slade knew who they were.

He and the rest of his crew had already tracked down the hacker, and Slade still had friends in La Valentia. He knew that the girl was his roommate.

He also knew she hadn’t been home for several days.

But Slade had done his homework during his four years on the inside. He had learned he wasn’t the first person to be thwarted by her. One of the earliest articles about her exploits mentioned her abduction from a cabin owned by her absent grandparents, a few hours west of the city. The address had been withheld, of course, but the newspaper had helpfully located the general area on a map, along with a farmhouse where she and several other girls had been taken in what had likely been the biggest news story La Valentia had seen in almost a decade.

There was no sign of her car at her parents’ house. And then there had been a short article about her nephew being abducted—no interviews with the family. According to the La Valentia Press, the boy had been rescued from the very same farmhouse.

Slade knew he wasn’t her only enemy. He wasn’t even her most dangerous one. And if her nephew had been found alive, it was only because the man responsible had wanted it that way. He was sending her a message. The use of the same farmhouse made that clear. And if the rest of her family held her to blame for the kidnapping…

Slade traced a dot on the newspaper article map.

She has nowhere else to go.

He turned the page, flipping to a newsprint photo of her face. She stared back at him in faded color—her long, dark ponytail trailing over her shoulder as her green eyes looked down the lens without smiling. He stroked her cheek with his thumb.

I’m coming for you.

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