Reckless Bounty by Lauren N Sharman by Lauren N Sharman - Read Online

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Summary

For thirteen years, bounty hunter Kage Garmin has made it a point to avoid female fugitives. He wasn't going after this one, either; but couldn't resist taking a look at the girl worth a million dollars. She smiled at him, and he fell in love. Kage knew from then on, she would be his. He also knew who was after her and why. In order to save her, he has to convince her to go the one place she's trying to avoid. Hiding in plain sight served Journey well...until a handsome bounty hunter shows up with a "feeling" she's in danger. As someone who doesn't trust easily, she's surprised to find herself believing in him. Finally convinced she deserves freedom and happiness, she's anxious to confront those who stole it from her. In a dangerous race across the country, Kage is determined to protect Journey as he fights to stay one step ahead of the enemy.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611600834
List price: $3.99
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Reckless Bounty - Lauren N Sharman

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Page 1 of 1

time…

Chapter 1

Convinced it was better for everyone if he had ties to no one; Kage Garmin lived a nomadic life. He didn’t love or hate it, he just dealt with it.

Six days was the longest he’d stayed in a town in thirteen years. If you could call this place a town. In reality, it was nothing more than a pit stop on The Mother Road headed west; a diner sitting in a dirt parking lot on the side of a two lane highway. In the dark, the pink and green neon sign advertising the establishment was visible long before the actual building.

But the food was good and the waitress was cute, so he figured there was no harm in hanging around since he was between jobs…even if the real reason was because he was too curious about how the runaway-trust-fund-princess drama would play out.

A well-seasoned bounty hunter, Kage had long since learned his lesson about taking on female fugitives. He had a hell of a time when it came to letting them do their personal business, didn’t like tears, and hated not being able to use his left hook to keep them in line.

But this fugitive was different. The bounty on her was a million dollars. The reward was being offered as a result of her doing nothing other than leaving home without telling her business tycoon daddy where she was going.

So the man claimed.

This wasn’t a typical case. Her picture wasn’t tacked to the post office wall, and she hadn’t jumped bail or broken any laws. Kage had caught wind of this bounty along The Outlaw Trail; a word-of-mouth network of bounty hunters like himself; men who got their jobs done toeing—and occasionally crossing—the conveniently invisible by-the-book line.

Kage didn’t give a damn about the money; ten times the posted reward wasn’t worth being stuck with an overdose of estrogen. But he was in the area, and couldn’t resist taking a look at a million-dollar piece of ass. Only, when Kage realized the cute waitress was the hon-on-the-run, his perspective changed.

So, here he was, sitting in what had become his usual booth, nursing his second pot of coffee, and picking at a plate of cold French fries.

Kage’s seat in the back of the room made it easy for his gaze to follow the waitress. The more he watched her, the more he was sure cute didn’t do her justice. Striking was a better description. The contrast between her nearly black hair, flawless pale skin, and mossy green eyes made his breath catch every morning when he saw her; the color heightened by artfully drawn black eyeliner. Her mouth was pouty-shaped; full lips painted just a few shades darker than her skin color gave her a natural complexion.

Her nametag read Journey. Kage knew he had the right girl, because the single name matched the description he’d been given. Since he hadn’t been able to figure out if that was her first or last name, he’d been calling her Ma’am, even though she couldn’t be much older than twenty. Short but athletically built; he bet she could put up a good fight if she had to…which she might, in the very near future.

Are you sure I can’t get you anything else? her voice interrupted, how about a fresh plate of fries?

She was talking to him, and he was staring at her like he didn’t understand English.

His face felt hot.

Because he didn’t trust himself not to say something stupid, Kage picked up a cold fry and took a bite. When he was relatively certain he wasn’t going to embarrass himself, he grinned and spoke slowly enough to have time to think about every word. No thank you, Ma’am. These will do just fine.

To his surprise, Journey put her hands on her hips and shifted them to one side; her head tilted the opposite way. She raised her brows and gave a hint of a smile. Look, Mr….

Kage, he drawled slowly, surprised he could speak clearly with her staring at him. Trying to talk to a pretty girl usually made his spit dry up and his tongue stick to the roof of his mouth…another reason he avoided them. Why torture himself?

Okay. Look, Mr. Kage—

He shook his head, admiring the swag in her attitude. Not Mr., he interrupted, just Kage.

She was fighting a losing battle to look angry, and finally gave into the smile. You’ve practically been living in here all week. You’re in and out all day; always sit in the same booth, and order meals you don’t eat. Didn’t your momma ever teach you not to waste food? That stuff could’ve gone to people who need a hot meal.

Kage fought his own smile, but couldn’t stop it. Memories of the lessons his mother had tried in vain to teach him and his brother made him laugh. They’d been restless, rebellious, and disobedient a good bit of the time, but Kage could honestly say neither one of them had ever wasted a morsel of food. Growing up, Kage and Diesel Garmin had eaten anything that didn’t eat them first.

Kage looked at the girl, thinking it was odd she was more concerned about the food he was wasting, than the fact that he’d been loitering in her diner for almost a week; clearly stalking her. Her morals didn’t match any of the trust fund princesses he’d ever met, which he found odd. Still, her glare made him feel guilty.

There’s no law against it, she said before he could reply; her tone accusatory. Being in here, I mean. But our food isn’t that good. The scenery is boring, and we don’t have free wireless Internet. What are you doing here? she asked point blank.

Kage gave her a full grin. You’re wrong, there, sweetheart. Slowly, his stare trailed up and down her body. The scenery is anything but boring.

She rolled her eyes. Save your lines for the whores at the truck stop, cowboy. She shook her head. I’m not interested.

The sarcasm took him off guard, but there was humor in it. When she started to turn away, he reached for her before he could stop himself. I’m watching out for you, he blurted out. I think you might be in a little trouble.

Or a lot. Kage was personally acquainted with some of the men hunting her. Others he’d heard of. Either way, she was going to be in a world of hurt when one of them finally caught up with her.

Journey didn’t flinch. I didn’t know there was a difference between a little bit of trouble and a lot.

He understood her reluctance to believe him. She probably got hit on a dozen times a day. Her reaction beat the hell out of tears, though; Kage didn’t like those at all.

Journey slid into the booth across from him. Go ahead; tell me why I’m in trouble. What did I do?

"You’re not in trouble; you didn’t do anything wrong. What I should’ve said was… he hesitated; mentally kicking himself for getting involved. …danger. It’s just a feeling, he added quickly, even though he knew it was more. He hoped the subtle warning would at least force her to be more aware of her surroundings. She had to know her father was looking for her. A little sixth sense thing. He shrugged. I could be wrong."

Her smirk said she thought he was full of it. Are you? she asked.

He picked up another cold fry and took a bite. Am I what?

Wrong.

Kage shrugged again. I don’t know yet.

Mmm hmm. Sure you don’t.

She started to get up, but Kage grabbed her wrist. He released it almost immediately. It’s just a feeling, Ma’am. That’s all.

Don’t call me that, she snapped. Please. My name is Journey. ‘Ma’am’ makes me feel like somebody’s grandmother.

Kage grinned and raised a brow. He liked her. Are you somebody’s grandmother?

The rag hit the side of his head before he could duck. No!

He cursed himself. For a man who’d travel a thousand miles out of his way to avoid a woman, Kage knew he was in too deep already. He’d been sucked in the moment he laid eyes on her. Twenty? he guessed her age.

Journey winked at him and he fell in love. Five, she admitted. But thanks for the compliment.

His gaze lingered on her beautiful face, and he wondered again why the father of a twenty-five year old woman would offer a million dollars for her return.

So, cowboy—

Kage, he reminded her.

So, Cowboy Kage, are you going to tell me why you think I’m in danger, or do I have to guess?

He really should’ve thought this through before mentioning the word danger. How could he allow thirteen years of training himself to take the utmost care before doing anything, go to hell at the sight of a pretty girl? She deserved an explanation, but it would be useless to try and give her one now. He’d have to talk to her later. You should get back to work.

Journey started to slide out of the booth, then stopped and glared at him hard. I get three or four marriage proposals a week in this place, and have been promised everything under the sun by men old enough to be my grandfather. Give me one reason to believe you.

Kage did his best to look nonchalant, adding a shrug for good measure. I don’t care enough to lie, sweetheart.

Yes, I do.

You and I don’t know each other, he explained. I could leave here right now and you’d never cross my mind again.

Yeah, right.

Her face was tattooed in his memory.

Journey still looked doubtful. She squinted at him. Then why waste your day watching out for someone who means nothing to you? What are you, an angel trying to earn your wings or something?

Cute and funny. Nice.

Something like that, he said, and dropped it.

Okay, so there’s a chance I could be in danger.

If Kage didn’t miss his guess, he’d say she was mocking him.

What should I do now?

Yup, she was mocking him. Kage ignored her. Just be careful, he told her. I’ll take care of the rest.

That seemed to surprise her. Kage—

The bell on the counter dinged loudly, interrupting her.

Order’s up. Kage motioned to the fry cook holding a spatula in one hand, and a plate of steaming food in the other. He was looking in their direction. You’d better get back to work.

Journey stared at him for an eternal few seconds before she slid the rest of the way out of the booth and walked away.

He didn’t blame her for being wary and doubting him. That was Stranger-Danger 101. Truthfully, he probably wouldn’t have had much respect for her if she’d hung on his every word. Journey had a mind of her own, and he’d bet his truck that’s what had gotten her in trouble in the first place.

Chapter 2

Journey hated the cold.

She stepped outside and slammed the backdoor; twisting the knob several times to make sure the diner was locked up tight.

She sprinted along the length of the brick building, rounded the corner, and took the steep metal stairs two at a time. Shivering in the frigid air, her bare hands shook while she struggled to unlock the two deadbolts with a key that hadn’t worked right in three years.

When the lock finally clicked, Journey opened the door to a welcomed wall of heat. She stepped through her tiny living room, dropped her work bag on a kitchen chair, and set her keys on the counter. Her cat, Morris, jumped down from the refrigerator and scared her; forcing her hand to her heart as she jumped back, startled. Stop doing that!

The cat meowed and brushed against her hand. She stroked his soft orange fur and kissed his head; jealous because the cat knew what it felt like to be content, and she didn’t.

What she needed was a hot shower and time to think. Journey gave Morris one last pat, then cranked the heat and grabbed her pajamas.

* * * *

Relaxed under the stream of hot water, Journey inhaled deeply, drawing the steam into her lungs. Head back and eyes closed, she was as relaxed as she knew how to be. Enjoying the hot water massage, she relived her conversation with Kage. Most of the compliments men gave her at the diner were nothing more than cheesy pickup lines; she knew it, and never took any of them seriously…even if she did let it feed her ego every now and then.

But those men preyed on women, too; any girl who looked lonely, sad, or needy. Journey liked to think she did a good job of hiding who she really was from those who had no business knowing. She’d had a few problems with customers, but nothing to make her feel like she was in danger. She didn’t believe she was in danger now, either, but surprised herself by hoping she was wrong. Until Kage, no man had ever been so interested, or concerned about her. He was respectful and kind—and hot—and she didn’t want him to turn out to be a liar.

Journey put her thoughts on hold and turned off the spray. Water dripped from her hair and ran down her body, chilling her, until she’d wrapped everything in towels and stepped out of the shower. A quick shot to the mirror with a blow-dryer, and the fog disappeared from the moisture-covered glass.

While brushing her hair, Journey went back to thinking about Kage. It was nothing new to see a stranger in the diner; the building’s location practically plucked hungry travelers right off the highway. What had her so confused was, it wasn’t common to see them more than once or twice…and certainly not six days in a row. Kage had spent nearly as much time in the diner the past week as she had; doing nothing out of the ordinary, but making his presence known just the same. He didn’t seem like the type her stepfather would send after her; Henry Whitestone was more the dark suit and sunglasses type. He’d hire someone who looked like a secret service agent to hunt her down before he went the cowboy route. That’s just who he was. If you didn’t wear Armani, you weren’t good enough to pick up his trash.

Honestly, Journey liked having Kage around. By the end of the fourth day, she’d gotten so used to seeing him she kind of missed him when he wasn’t there. He was polite and friendly…and nice to look at.

She just knew the few inches of thick, light brown hair peeking out from under his well-worn Stetson was silky soft. Head to toe, it was all there; a face his momma had to be proud of, broad shoulders, strong arms, and a lower half made for snug-fitting Wranglers. Kage’s beat-up cowboy boots were a telltale sign of a hard worker; a man’s man. Nothing was sexier than masculinity.

For someone who could count the number of people she trusted on one hand, Journey found herself wanting to believe in Kage. She was a decent judge of character, and pretty sure her intuition would warn her if he couldn’t be trusted.

The only reason she’d be in danger would be if her stepfather had found out where she was. In that case, he would’ve sent someone else after her, since Henry Whitestone never did his own dirty work. She refused to believe Kage meant her harm.

Maybe he really did have a feeling; a sixth sense that had sent him warning vibes about her. He hadn’t said exactly why he was watching out for her or what he was going to do if danger walked through the door, but maybe he really was telling the truth.

Was she crazy not to question his motives; to trust a total stranger? If Kage hadn’t been the only drifter hanging around the past week, she would’ve said yes. But a group of five haggard men had frequented the diner a few days before Kage showed up. They were as loud, rude, and disruptive as Kage was quiet and polite. Earlier in the week, they’d chased away most of the diner’s dinner crowd two nights in a row. After that second night, they hadn’t been back.

Deep in thought, Journey shrieked when a sudden, loud pounding on her front door broke the silence. She shrieked again when the hairbrush fell and landed bristle-side down on top of her foot, scraping it.

After her second shriek, the pounding got louder and more insistent.

Was someone calling her name?

Journey let her towel fall to the floor. She pulled the pajama top over her head, jammed one leg at a time through the bottoms, and ran from the bathroom.

The pounding was becoming consistently louder. Who is it? she yelled; the irritation in her voice a direct result of being startled.

It’s Kage! Open the door!

Kage? How did he know where to find me?

Journey! he barked when she didn’t respond.

She jumped at the harsh command. What! But she obeyed, unlocking the deadbolts and twisting the knob. When Kage pushed the door open and forced his way inside, she stepped back in surprise. He slammed the door behind him, rattling the windows.

When his alarmed gaze settled on her head, she momentarily forgot to be angry after remembering the towel that was still there. Mortified by what she must look like, she tore it away and tossed it onto the chair. The relief on his face was evident when her hair spilled onto her shoulders.

After running her fingers through the wet strands to try and tame them, she found her anger again. What are you doing here? she demanded; her heart still pounding. She’d never had a visitor before. What’s wrong with you?

Kage was dressed the same as he’d been all day. Jeans, boots, cowboy hat, and a duster seemed to be his constant outfit of choice.

He took a moment to scan the room before refocusing on her. What do you mean, ‘what’s wrong with me’? What’s wrong with you? Why’d you open the door?

Because you were pounding on it. She put her hands on her hips. Have you been drinking?

What? No. Are you okay?

Of course I’m okay. Don’t I look okay?

He stared at her. When he broke into a crooked grin, she felt the heat of humiliation creep up her neck. Nothing about her looked okay. She was dressed in old lady pajamas, and her hair was soaking wet and probably still sticking up all over the place. Never mind, don’t answer that.

He was still staring at her when a loud crash came from the kitchen, and she jumped in surprise. Her heart racing; it was several seconds before she realized she was pressed against Kage’s body, shielded in his arms under his duster. Lost in the leathery scent, it was another few seconds before she composed herself enough to back away.

Before she could say anything, he was creeping toward the kitchen with a large knife in his hand. Journey reached out and grabbed his arm. Don’t!

Kage shook her off and forced her behind him.

Kage! she said again. Please! It was just the cat!

He stopped. What?

The noise, she said, it was Morris; my cat. He knocked something over.

If that was all, why are you so jumpy?

I’m not jumpy, it just startled me. I’m fine. Are you going to tell me what you’re doing here?

I thought— He stopped and stared at her, then shook his head. Never mind.

"Never mind? You show up at my apartment at— she glanced at the clock. Midnight. Scare me half to death, then tell me to never mind?"

So you opened the door because I was pounding on it? he asked, suddenly resuming the old conversation.

I already answered that.

Do you always open the door for strangers when they knock?

"Pounding, she reminded him. Another minute of your brute force abuse, that door would’ve given in and opened by itself. And you’re not a stranger. You’ve been sitting in my booth fifteen hours a day for the past six days. All that time together puts us close to the tenth or eleventh date, at least; maybe even one overnighter. The way I see it, we’re ready to make reservations to go away for the weekend."

That surprised him. She could tell. He opened his mouth and closed it again, then pulled his duster to the side and slipped the knife into some kind of sheath attached to his belt. Funny, he’d pulled the weapon so fast she hadn’t even noticed.

Journey took advantage of Kage’s silence to re-bolt the door locks. She left him where he was and ducked into her bedroom for a pair of socks. When she got back, he still hadn’t moved. We should start over. Do you want to sit down?

He gave her a strange look.