I Got You, Babe

By: Jane Graves

Chapter 1





Renee Esterhaus peered out of room fourteen of the Flamingo Motor Lodge at the intersection of Highway 37 and the middle of nowhere, shivering a little in the crisp October air. She cast a nervous glance left and right down the sidewalk in front of the other rooms, then turned her gaze to the gravel parking lot and the dense pine forest beyond it. Everything seemed quiet. No suspicious-looking people. No cars she hadn’t seen before. No helicopters circling overhead, ready to drop a SWAT team.

Nothing but the evening breeze rustling through the trees.

She slid out the door, leaving it ajar, then scurried to the snack machine in the breezeway between her room and the motel office, telling herself to calm down, that no matter what she’d done, the SWAT team thing was pretty unlikely.

She plugged two quarters into the machine and was getting ready to insert the third when the skin prickled on the back of her neck. She froze, the quarter poised at the slot, then swallowed hard and glanced over her shoulder.

Nothing.

She let out the breath she’d been holding. Her imagination was getting the better of her.

If only her old Toyota hadn’t chosen the worst possible moment of her life to fall apart, she wouldn’t be stuck overnight in this ratty little motel swearing that someone was looking over her shoulder. She prayed that the mechanic at the Mobil station down the street would keep his promise and have a new fuel pump installed first thing in the morning. Then she’d be back on the road again, one step closer to New Orleans, Louisiana, and one step farther away from Tolosa, Texas.

New Orleans. She didn’t know why she’d chosen that city, except that it had a lot of restaurants so she could easily get a job, and the dark mystery that surrounded it meant she could probably lose one identity and pick up another. Of course, she had no idea how a person went about becoming someone else, but she couldn’t think about that now. She’d get her car, get on the road, and figure out the rest later.

She shoved the quarter in, pushed a button, and her dinner fell to the bottom of the machine—a package of peanut butter crackers. She leaned over and plucked it out of the slot. As she stood up again, an arm snaked around her waist and something cold and hard jabbed against the underside of her jaw.

“Missed your court date, sweet thing.”

In a blinding rush, she felt herself being spun around and slammed against the snack machine. That cold, hard thing—a gun—now rested against her throat. And right in her face was the biggest, ugliest, most menacing-looking man she’d ever seen. He had to be pushing fifty, but not an ounce of muscle had gone to fat. His clean-shaven head, death-theme tattoos, and single gold earring gave him a sinister look that bordered on the psychotic.

“Wh-who are you?” she stammered.

A cunning smile curled his lips. “Max Leandro. Bond enforcement officer. And your luck just ran out.”

It took a moment for Renee to comprehend his words, and when she did, a huge rush of panic swept through her. She’d been watching out for cops, who she assumed would announce their presence with bullhorns and bloodhounds. The last thing she expected was to be nabbed by a two-ton bounty hunter who looked as if he could bench-press a Buick.

He shoved his gun into the waistband of his jeans, yanked her wrists together in front of her, and snapped on a pair of handcuffs. He half led, half dragged her around the comer to his old Jeep Cherokee parked on the west side of the motel.

“No!” Renee said, trying to pull her arm away. “Please don’t do this! Please!”

“Oh, but I’ve got to. See, they’re holding a party at the county jail, and your name is at the top of the guest list.”

“Wait a minute!” She looked back over her shoulder. “What about my stuff? You can’t just leave—”

“Sure I can.”

He pushed her into the passenger seat through the driver’s door, then slid in beside her. He lit up a Camel, shoved a Metallica CD into the CD player, and peeled out of the motel parking lot.

Renee stared at the dashboard, feeling shock and disbelief and a whole lot of anxiety. In less than two hours she’d be back in the hands of the Tolosa police, and they wouldn’t be letting her out on bail again.

She glared at Leandro. “How did you find me?”

“By being the best, sweet thing.”

Damn. Why couldn’t she have been chased by a bounty hunter who graduated at the bottom of his class?

She tested the handcuffs with a furtive jerk or two, found them unyielding, then took stock of the rest of her situation. The door handle had been removed from the passenger side of the front seat. Glancing over her shoulder, she could see the back doors had gotten the same treatment. It appeared that plan A—leaping out of a moving vehicle—was not going to be an option.

“You’re making a terrible mistake,” she told him, putting plan B into action. “I’m innocent. You don’t want to take an innocent person to jail, do you?”

He made a scoffing noise. “Innocent, my ass. You got caught with the loot and the weapon.”

“Well, yeah—”

“The old lady who was robbed said the perp was a blond woman.”