- Published: 15 September 2020
- ISBN: 9781787465374
- Imprint: Arrow
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 448
- RRP: $19.99
The Ranger has gone rogue...
Susan Snyder presses her foot down on the gas pedal and zooms around a curve, the headlights of her Mustang convertible cutting through the darkness and the stereo blasting the Foo Fighters into the cool June Texas air. She has the top down, and her hair whips around in the wind as goose bumps rise on her arms. Maybe from the chill. Maybe from excitement.
She knows she should slow down. She should be careful. But she can’t help herself. She’s giddy. She can’t wait for tomorrow to come. She should probably feel more scared. That’s the smart way to feel—scared and careful. But caution has never been a word in her vocabulary. At thirty-seven years old, she’s single and successful, and she doesn’t take shit from anyone.
She rounds another curve, the tires squealing against the blacktop. Up ahead, her ranch house is nestled among the sagebrush-covered hills. She races into her gravel driveway and skids to a halt, sending a cloud of dust up into her headlight beams. She takes a deep breath and sits in the car for a minute, trying to let her heart rate slow down.
It won’t. She’s just too excited.
She was on a dinner date tonight. At least that’s what it would have looked like to the other customers at the only halfway decent restaurant in town. A man. A woman. White wine. Filet mignon for him. Crab legs for her. A shared dessert of strawberry cheesecake topped with vanilla bean ice cream.
But it wasn’t a date. It was a strategy session.
Come tomorrow, the little West Texas town of Rio Lobo won’t know what hit it.
Susan presses the button to raise the convertible roof. On her way up her front walk, she looks up at the moonless sky. The view is breathtaking, and she never tires of country still so untouched by light pollution that the stars look like droplets of paint sprinkled over a vast black canvas.
One of the reasons she lives here is the solitude. The simple country life. She works as a freelance web designer and makes a comfortable living. In a town like Rio Lobo, where Susan serves as one of five elected members of the town council, she might even be considered borderline rich. But her income wouldn’t go nearly as far in a big city like Houston or Dallas, let alone New York or Los Angeles, where a lot of her clients are based. Besides, the town of Rio Lobo is about the perfect size for her. It has exactly two stoplights.
Susan takes her eyes off the sky for a moment and notices something on her front porch. On the rocking chair next to her door sits an object enfolded in clear plastic wrap, with a handwritten note attached. Made some cookies for you. They’re safe. The note is unsigned, but when she sees the two snickerdoodles—her favorite cookie—she knows who left them for her.
Inside, she’s already unwrapping the cookies as she kicks off her shoes. She eats the first one and takes a drink of milk straight from the gallon. She considers saving the second one for tomorrow, but she’s in an indulgent mood. She eats it and tosses the cellophane and note onto her kitchen table. She leaves her purse there next to the wrapper and heads down the hall to her bedroom.
She steps out of her dress and pulls on a pair of Victoria’s Secret sweatpants and a Dallas Cowboys jersey that she sleeps in.
When she picks up her toothbrush, her fingers feel tingly, as if they’ve fallen asleep. She puts the toothbrush into her mouth and notices the swelling of her lips. She squints at herself in the mirror—not only does it look like someone punched her in the mouth but also her whole face appears to be swelling, as if she’s suddenly gained twenty pounds.
Worse than her appearance, her breathing has become labored.
Susan tells herself not to panic. She has a known peanut allergy, and any hint of peanut oil could trigger this reaction. Her friend who left the cookies knows about the allergy—and labeled them They’re safe—but must have accidentally baked in some trace of peanuts.
Moving slowly, trying to keep her breathing under control, Susan opens the medicine cabinet and, with fingers swollen like sausages, grabs her EpiPen. Tearing open the package, she walks over to her bed, sits on the edge, and then, without hesitation, jams the needle into her leg, right through her sweatpants.
She knows that she needs to call 911. But her cell phone is in her purse back in the kitchen, on the other side of the house. She decides to wait a minute and let the shot of adrenaline do its job. She concentrates on her breathing. Air wheezes through her throat, like wind whistling through a desert canyon.
Her vision blurs. Her heart won’t stop pounding. A wave of dizziness nearly topples her off the bed. She needs to get to her phone.
The shot isn’t working.
She rises and takes a step forward, but the floor seems to tilt under her feet. She makes it to the hallway and collapses. She tries to stand, but all her muscles are cramping, shooting lightning bolts of pain throughout her body.
Over the pounding of her own heart, she hears something— footsteps.
Thank God, she thinks.
Help, Susan tries to say, but no words come out. Her lungs have stopped inflating. Her vision darkens.
There are no stars in this blackness.
I pull my Ford F-150 into the small parking lot at the Rio Grande Bank and Trust in Waco. A big Dodge pickup, even bigger than mine, is taking up two handicapped spaces right in front. I drive around to the shady side and find an opening far from the door.
It’s my lunch break, and I need to deposit a check for my girlfriend.
“Tell me again, Rory,” my lieutenant and new boss says from the passenger seat, “why your girlfriend doesn’t get a bank account in Tennessee.”
Kyle Hendricks and I became Rangers right around the same time and have always been competitive. Up until about a month ago, Kyle and I were the same rank. Then my old boss, friend, and mentor, Lieutenant Ted Creasy, retired and Kyle got promoted. A lot of Rangers wanted me to take the lieutenant’s exam, but I wasn’t in the right headspace to apply for the job. I’ve been through hell and back in the last year.
Now that Kyle’s my boss, I remind myself to be respectful of his position. After all, he’s in his late thirties, a few years older than me. The Texas-bred good old boy has hair the color of straw and the long, lean body of the baseball pitcher he was back in high school and college. Since football was my sport, I thought of Kyle and me as two quarterbacks vying for the starting spot, fueled by a mix of mutual respect and distaste—then suddenly one of them became the coach.
“Coach” invited me to lunch at a local restaurant called Butter My Biscuit, which I took as a good sign that he wants to smooth this transition. But the way he’s been ribbing me about Willow makes me think that maybe he hasn’t changed much after all.
“Hell,” Kyle says, “it’s the twenty-first century. They got national banks now, you know. Wells Fargo. Capital One. You might have heard of ’em.”
I ignore him. The guys at work tease me all the time about Willow, who moved to Nashville a good eight months ago. She’s a country singer—a hell of a good one, too. Through most of her twenties, she played in bars and roadhouses from Texas to Nashville. But she never got her big break—until last fall, when she broke her ankle and a video of her singing on a barstool in a leg cast went viral. Suddenly producers and talent scouts were asking for demos of her songs, inviting her to fly out to Nashville for auditions. She and I had really only just started dating. But I encouraged her to go and pursue her dreams. Take her shot.
She’s done well so far. A couple of songs she wrote were recorded by Miranda Lambert and Little Big Town, and are already earning her royalty checks. Her own album is due out later this summer. People are saying Willow is going to be the next big thing, but she knows every new artist is next up for fame, though fame passes most of them by.
She’s been cautiously optimistic, and maybe a little superstitious. She doesn’t want to open a bank account in Nashville until she feels sure this is a permanent move. Which also has a little something to do with me. The Nashville Police Department has a job opening for a detective, and she’s asked me to consider applying.
I’m honored to be a Texas Ranger, born and raised in Texas, and the thought of leaving the top division of state law enforcement isn’t a decision I take lightly. Times have changed since the Wild West days, but not the legendary status of Texas Rangers. The badge still carries a mystique.
“How much is that check for anyway?” Kyle says, gesturing to the sealed envelope in my hand.
I ignore this question, too. “I’ll be right back,” I say.
“Take your time,” he says, leaning his head back and tilting his Stetson down over his eyes. “I’m going to take me a little nap.”
It’s early June, but already the air is hot and thick with humidity. My clothes stick to my skin. I’m wearing the typical Texas Ranger attire: dress slacks, button-down shirt, tie, cowboy hat, and cowboy boots. And a polished silver star pinned to my shirt.
I’m wearing my gun, too, a SIG Sauer P320 loaded with .357 cartridges, sheathed in a quick-draw holster. A Texas Ranger should always be ready for anything.
I walk into the bank head down, not paying attention to my surroundings as I open the envelope Willow sent me. I’m caught off guard by the amount of the check. I’m glad I didn’t tell Kyle—I’d never hear the end of it.
Not until I hear the unmistakable click of a gun being cocked no more than a foot from my head do I sense anything is wrong. Today I’m not ready.
“Hold it right there, Ranger,” a voice says from behind me. “One move and I’ll put a bullet right through your skull.”
LIGHTS, CAMERA, action. This could mean everything to Latham. It could be his ticket out.
CINDY THOMAS FOLLOWED Robert Barnett’s assistant down the long corridor at the law firm of Barnett and Associates in Washington, DC.
I CHECKED THE street in both directions in front of an upscale coffee house called Flat Bread and Butter on Amsterdam Avenue near 140th Street. The street was about as quiet as New York City gets.
IT TOOK BOBBY a week to decide where to park. It had to be close to the wedding, but not too close.
DEVON MONROE TORE HIS EYES off the two dead bodies in the powder-blue Bentley convertible, top down, idling not twenty yards away, and glanced at his best friend.
I want to touch you. Your face, your skin, your thighs, your eyes. I want to feel you shiver as my hands explore every part of you.
INSIDE THIS DUMP of a home in rural Sullivan, Georgia, Lillian Zachary’s rescue mission to save her younger sister and niece isn’t going well.
Cindy Thomas was tuned in to her police scanner as she drove through the Friday-morning rush to her job at the San Francisco Chronicle.