By Sandra Brown
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When Jordie Bennet and Shaw Kinnard lock eyes across a disreputable backwater bar, something sparks. Shaw is a man who gives off a dangerous vibe that makes other men stand back and women take notice. No one feels this more strongly than Jordie, a woman who doesn’t belong in a seedy dive on the banks of a bayou. But here she is . . . and Shaw Kinnard is here to kill her.
As Shaw takes aim, Jordie is certain her time has come. Instead, Shaw has other plans. He abducts Jordie, hoping to get his hands on the $30 million her brother has stolen. But he isn’t the only one: Jordie’s brother made a deal with the FBI, but his ruthless boss will stop at nothing to find the money first. Now on the run from the feds and a notorious criminal, Jordie and Shaw must rely on their wits to stay alive.
Miles away from civilization and surrounded by swampland, Jordie and Shaw play each other against their common enemies. Jordie’s only chance of survival is to outwit Shaw, but he suspects her from the start. Was she in on her brother’s scam, or is she an innocent pawn in this deadly vendetta? And just how valuable is her life to Shaw, her remorseless and manipulative captor? Burning for answers — and for each other — this unlikely pair ultimately make a desperate move that could be their last.
With nonstop plot twists and the sizzling sexual tension that has made Sandra Brown one of the world’s most beloved authors, Sting will keep you on the edge of your seat until its final pages.
Exactly twenty-two minutes before Mickey Bolden met his maker, he tossed a handful of popcorn into his mouth and said, “A woman walks into a bar.”
Shaw Kinnard, hunched forward on the bar stool next to Mickey’s and, staring into his drink with every indication of boredom, gave the shot glass of tequila a couple of idle turns. “Yeah? And?”
“That’s the joke?”
“No joke, and not a damn thing about this is funny.”
As though he’d been popped with a rubber band, Shaw’s boredom vanished. His head snapped around to look at Mickey.
The man’s eyes were no larger than raisins and half shuttered by pillows of fat, but Shaw was able to follow their tracking movement from one side of the beer joint to the other. Tempted as he was to take a look for himself, he stayed on his partner’s bloated face. In dread of the answer, he asked, “Any woman in particular?”
“Particularly, our woman.”
“As I live and breathe.” Mickey dusted popcorn salt off his hands. “Currently at one o’clock over your right shoulder, claiming a stool where the bar crooks, so don’t turn around, ’cause she’s facing this way.”
Mickey’s grin suggested that the two of them were engaged in easy conversation, when, in fact, Jordie Bennett’s unexpected arrival came as a jolt.
“Well this sure as hell screws the pooch,” Shaw muttered. “She alone?”
“Came in that way.” One of Mickey’s puffy eyes closed in a wink. “But the night is young.” His smirk only made him uglier, if that was possible.
Shaw lowered his gaze back to his glass of Patrón Silver. “You think she’s made us?”
“Naw. How could she?”
“Then what the hell is she doing here?”
Mickey shrugged. “Maybe the lady’s thirsty.”
“She gets thirsty the day we hit town?”
“Stranger things have happened.”
“Strange things make me nervous.”
“’Cause you don’t have the experience I do,” Mickey said.
With unconcealed scorn, Shaw gave the other man a once-over, thinking that in this instance, experience amounted to a stupid and dangerous complacency. “I’m not exactly a rookie at this,” he said.
“Then you should know to keep your cool if the plan develops a kink.”
“A kink? This is a sheepshank.”
“Maybe. But until we know better, I’m gonna look at it as a wild coincidence and not jump to conclusions that are probably wrong. Shit happens. Best-laid plans get shot to hell. Sometimes you just gotta go with the flow and improvise.”
“Yeah? Well what if the flow floats you into an ocean of sewage?”
“Relax, bro,” Mickey drawled. “Everything’s okay. She’s giving the place a survey, casual like, not like she’s looking for anybody in particular. Her baby blues skipped right past me, didn’t light.”
Shaw snorted as he raised his glass to his mouth. “Because you’re butt ugly.”
“Hey, there’s plenty of ladies that like me.”
“If you say so.” Shaw tossed back the remainder of his tequila. As he returned the empty glass to the bar, he glanced toward the subject of their interest, who was presently thanking the bartender for the glass of white wine he was setting down in front of her.
She was his and Mickey’s reason for being here. Here being the boondocks of south central Louisiana. Not here, a local watering hole, built of rusty, corrugated metal, unstably situated on the muddy banks of a sluggish bayou. If the establishment had a name, Shaw didn’t know it. BAR was spelled out in red neon letters that hissed and crackled as they flashed above the door outside.
Inside, the place was smoky and reeking with the ripe odors of its rough, blue-collar clientele. Zydeco music blasted from the jukebox, which looked like it had ridden out twenty or so hurricanes that were dress rehearsals for Katrina.
He and Mickey blended reasonably well into the joint’s general seediness, but this wasn’t the kind of place one would expect to see Jordan Elaine Bennett, known to family and friends as Jordie. Yet here she was. Drinking white wine, for godsake. Like that didn’t make her conspicuous in a place where the beer was bottled and hard liquor was poured neat.
Mickey scooped another handful of popcorn from the plastic bowl and shoved it into his mouth. Talking around the charred kernels, he asked, “You’re thinking her being here is something besides coincidence?”
“Hell I know,” Shaw muttered. “Doesn’t feel right, is all.” He bobbed his head in thanks to the bartender, who wordlessly offered to pour him a refill of tequila then, with accurate presumption, uncapped another long neck for Mickey.
As he took a pull from the fresh bottle of beer, he squinted down the length of it toward the far end of the bar, where it formed an ell. He swallowed, belched lager fumes, said around the burp, “Could be she’s just cruising.”
Shaw cocked his eyebrow in doubt. “For a man, you mean?”
“Well, why not?”
“She’s not the type.”
Mickey chuckled and nudged Shaw’s arm with his elbow. “They’re all the type.”
“The voice of experience speaks again?”
Mickey gave a sage nod. “Hard to get? Total female bullshit, designed to make us work for it.”
Shaw considered Mickey’s editorial, then picked up his tequila and shot it. Decisively he set the empty glass on the bar and slid off the stool, making sure as he stood up that his shirttail covered the grip of the pistol holstered on his belt.
Mickey choked on his beer. “Where’re you—”
“To test your theory, fat man.”
Shaw left Mickey sputtering.
As he ambled along the row of bar stools, he was sized up by drinkers of both sexes. Women regarded him with either speculation or flat-out invitation. Disinterested, he didn’t engage, not even with a smile. Men gave him hard, cold, challenging stares, which he returned harder, colder, and more challenging. All looked away before he did.
Shaw had that way about him.
No one had yet worked up enough courage to occupy the vacant bar stool next to Jordie Bennett’s. Locals probably understood that she was off-limits to riffraff. In her opinion Shaw must’ve qualified as such because, as he got closer, he caught her eye, but briefly, before she directed the referred-to baby blues back down to her glass of wine. No change in facial expression, no shift in body language, not a flutter of a single long eyelash.
Unapproachable was Jordie Bennett.
With that face, that body, she could afford to be selective. No two ways about it, she could make just about any man’s mouth water.
Which kinda sucked.
Since Shaw had been hired to kill her.
Three days earlier, Shaw had been sunning himself beside a sapphire-blue swimming pool, watching two topless girls cavort in the shallow end, catching a buzz from a tall, pastel drink from which a hibiscus blossom sprouted, enjoying the hedonistic lifestyle that could be bought with new money in Old Mexico.
He was a guest in a villa that sat on a cliff overlooking the Gulf. The white stucco structure sprawled atop a jungle-draped hillside that tumbled down onto the sandy shore. The palatial property belonged to the man Shaw would execute later that night.
However, that afternoon as he’d watched the girls play and sipped the tropical cocktail, he didn’t know that yet.
After the swimming party, guests had been given time to retreat to their rooms and change into their casual chic before reconvening for an extended cocktail hour, followed by a four-course dinner served by a deferential, all-male staff who wore white cotton gloves on their hands and carried black pistols belted around their crisply starched uniforms. For dessert each guest was offered his choice of sweet confection, after-dinner cordial, controlled substance, and senorita.
While making his selections, Shaw’s cell phone vibrated. He excused himself to take the call and left the terrace for one of the open-air rooms that accessed it. The study was opulently furnished. Too opulently. It attested to the owner’s youthful flamboyance and poor judgment.
Shaw answered his phone with a laconic “Yeah?”
A gravelly voice said, “You know who this is?”
Shaw had spent months trying to win enough trust to be granted an interview with the hit man. Bolden finally agreed to a meeting with Shaw, during which both were watchful and wary…of their surroundings, surely, but mostly of each other. In carefully coded language, Shaw had provided Mickey with his résumé and the extent of his experience in their unique field of endeavor.
Something, maybe his subtlety and disinclination to boast, had convinced Mickey that Shaw was competent. At the conclusion of their coffee date, Mickey said he would be in touch should the need for Shaw’s services ever arise. That had been six months ago. Shaw had almost given up hope of hearing from him.
“You still want a job?”
Shaw glanced out onto the terrace where the dessert course had deteriorated into a full-fledged orgy. “One-man show?”
“You partner with me.”
“Must be a special gig.”
“You want it or not?”
“What’s the split?”
You couldn’t get more fair than that. “When do you need me?”
That had been Tuesday evening, leaving Shaw very little time to wrap up his job there and get to New Orleans by the appointed time.
He’d had a hundred more questions for Mickey Bolden, but, the opportunity being too good to pass up, and figuring he would get the details of the contract soon enough, he’d put his curiosity on hold and told the man that he could count on him.
It had required some deft maneuvering and tortuous travel, but he’d finished his business in Mexico that night and managed to reach Louisiana with time to spare. He and Mickey had rendezvoused yesterday and then had driven together to the township of Tobias this morning.
They’d spent the day reconnoitering and developing a strategy for how best to go about killing Jordan Elaine Bennett, owner of Extravaganza, a much-sought-after event planning business in New Orleans. She was sister to and only living relative of Joshua Raymond Bennett, a much-sought-after crook.
He and Mickey had followed Jordie Bennett around town as she ran mundane errands. At a little after six p.m. this evening she’d returned home. They’d waited three hours, but she didn’t reappear. Believing their target had settled in to spend a quiet Friday night at home, he and Mickey had gone to a local diner for dinner. Over tough steaks and greasy fries, Mickey outlined a plan of attack.
Shaw had expressed surprise when Mickey had identified their target the day before. Now he questioned the expediency of the hit. “Why tomorrow?”
“Seems rushed. I figured we’d watch her for a few more days, get a better feel for her routine, then pick the best place and time.”
“Panella picked our time,” Mickey said as he sawed into his T-bone. “And the customer is always right. He wants it done tomorrow, we do it tomorrow.”
“He’s under a deadline?”
Following dinner, they’d decided to wash down the bad food with a drink before making the hour drive back to New Orleans. This bar had been recommended by the diner’s busboy, whose standards obviously weren’t very high.
However, it had suited their purposes, because in no-name places like this everyone kept his head down.
Jordie Bennett sure as hell did. As Shaw continued walking along the bar toward her, she was concentrating hard on her glass of wine as though waiting for it to ferment some more. When he reached the end of the bar, he didn’t break stride, but walking right past her, he caught a whiff of expensive perfume. A spicy scent. Something exotic and elusive that would make a man want to conduct a sniffing search for its source along all sixty-six inches of her.
He didn’t stop till he reached the listing Wurlitzer against the wall. Standing in the multicolored glow of its bubbling tubes, he propped his forearm on the arced top. The stance put his body at a slight angle so that while he flipped through the song selection cards pretending interest, he could use his peripheral vision to keep an eye on Jordie.
She took a sip of wine with lips straight out of a dirty dream, then lowered the glass to the bar and left her hand resting there. Long slender fingers. No rings. Nail polish so pale Shaw wondered why she’d bothered to spend an hour in the salon that afternoon. Her wristwatch was a basic tank style with a no-nonsense brown alligator strap, more practical than pretty, but you could probably buy a good used car with what she’d paid for it.
A satin bra strap showed in the sleeveless armhole of her simple white top, and, with the slightest motion of her head, it was brushed by long strands of mahogany-colored hair that looked even more satiny. Her sandals were high-heeled and her jeans tight. Perched on the bar stool, her ass looked real sweet.
He wasn’t the only man in the place to have noticed. A guy, younger than her by at least a decade, younger than Shaw by twice that, was being egged on by his pool-playing buddies. Fueled by whiskey and goaded by guffaws, he sauntered over to the empty stool beside hers.
Her small red handbag, no larger than a letter envelope, was lying on the bar, a silver chain snaking from it. She scooted it closer to her, granting the yokel permission to claim the stool.
Maybe Mickey was right, and she was cruising. But she hadn’t looked at the would-be Romeo with either recognition or encouragement, and Shaw wouldn’t place odds on him succeeding at anything except to annoy her.
Shaw looked toward Mickey to see if he’d observed that she now had company. He had. His porcine face had turned red and sweaty. He was talking on his cell phone. Shaw didn’t have to wonder who was on the other end of that call. No doubt Mickey was consulting with their retainer about how they should proceed now that Ms. Bennett’s surprise appearance had thrown a wrench into the plan.
Shaw returned his attention to the progression of the romance. As expected, Jordie Bennett was replying to the guy’s slurred come-ons with increasing impatience. He was young and drunk and out to prove his appeal to the fairer sex, but couldn’t he see that he was way out of his league? Not that Shaw faulted the fool for taking a stab at it. Shag her, have bragging rights for life.
Coming from his blind side, a hand landed heavily on Shaw’s shoulder. Automatically he reached toward his pistol.
“Relax,” Mickey growled, “it’s me.” He pointed to the song list. “They got any Merle Haggard?”
Shaw flipped back through a few of the song menu cards. “Who were you talking to on the phone?”
“Who you think?”
“What did he say?”
“Dropped a load of F bombs, then said this dive was getting crowded and we should split. Like now.” He subtly tilted his head toward the scene being acted out behind him. The drunk was leaning toward Jordie Bennett at such a steep angle, he was barely maintaining his balance on the bar stool. “What’re they doing now? What about him? You see anything that should have us worried?”
Shaw watched the couple for several moments longer, then shook his head. “He only wants in her pants.”
“Okay. Let’s go.” Mickey turned away from the jukebox and led the way to the exit.
Shaw fell into step behind him. He resisted the temptation to take one last look at Jordie Bennett.
As soon as he and Mickey cleared the door, he sucked in a deep breath to try and ease the tension between his shoulder blades and to clear his head of bar fug.
But the outside air was hot and humid, only a little fresher than that inside the bar. His shoulders remained tense as he followed Mickey to their car. They’d left it at the far edge of the parking lot, which was only a fan-shaped patch of crushed oyster shells in front of the tavern.
Mickey wedged himself into the passenger seat. As subordinate partner on this job, it fell to Shaw to drive. Which was okay by him. He hated riding shotgun. If and when a situation went tits-up, he liked having control of the vehicle.
He put the key in the ignition, but Mickey said, “Hold on. We’re not going anywhere yet.”
Shaw’s heart bumped. “Why not?”
“We’re doing it here.”
Shaw just looked at him, then, “You joking?”
“No. Panella said there’s no time like the present.”
“Hell, there isn’t,” Shaw hissed, gesturing back toward the bar. “We were seen in there.”
“Which is another reason why Panella said to go ahead.”
“That doesn’t makes sense.”
“Makes perfect sense.”
“Only if you want to get caught. Speaking for myself, I don’t.”
“So then don’t get caught.” Mickey grunted with the effort of extracting his pistol from the holster lodged between the folds of his belly. “Panella advises against it, too.”
“Easy for him to say. It’s not his ass that’s exposed, is it?”
Mickey gave him a sidelong glance. “First time out and you’re going soft on me.”
“Not soft, old man. Sensible. I don’t see why the fucking hurry.”
“I explained that.”
“Yeah, but tomorrow would be soon enough.”
“Not anymore. Panella has changed his mind. Small town like this, where everybody knows everybody? Word gets around quick that there’s two ‘strangers’ in town.”
“Okay. So we wait to do it till she goes back to New Orleans.”
“That could be days. She doesn’t go into the city on a regular basis. Works out of her house here a lot. Anyhow, it’s not our decision to make. Panella says get her done, especially now that we happened to be caught under the same roof as the target.”
Shaw understood the reasoning, but he still didn’t like it. Not at all.
Mickey kept talking. “Like you, Panella is scared that maybe her showing up here tonight isn’t a coincidence.”
“That’s what I said, but I was only mouthing off. Her coming here has gotta be a fluke. There’s no way she could know about us.”
“Well, whatever, Panella said to do it now, so…” For punctuation, Mickey used the slide of his 9mm to chamber a bullet.
Shaw realized two things: His vote didn’t count, and further argument was pointless. “Shit.” He pulled his pistol from its holster and glanced back toward the door with the crackling neon sign above it. “So how do you want to do it?”
“We wait here till she comes out. If the redneck asshole leaves with her, you pop him. I’ll take care of her.”
“If she comes out alone?”
“I’ll do the honors,” Mickey said as he worked his hands into latex gloves. He passed a pair to Shaw. “You take her purse. Panella says to make it look like a robbery gone bad. A random crime.”
“With no connection to either him or her brother.”
“With no connection to anything.”
Shaw scoffed. “Like anybody will believe that.”
Mickey chuckled. “Not your problem who believes what. You’ll be far and away, enjoying your half of two hundred grand.”
“That’ll buy a nice boat.”
“That’ll buy nice pussy.”
“Your mind’s in the gutter, Mickey.”
He chuckled again. “Where it feels right at home.”
Noticing motion from the corner of his eye, Shaw took another look through the rear window. “Here she comes.”
Shaw waited to answer until the door had closed behind Jordie Bennett and no one followed her out. “Yep.”
Since the building didn’t have any exterior lighting, the parking lot was almost in complete darkness. A pale, slender moon was obscured by the moss-bearded branches of an oak that extended across three-quarters of the lot. There were no approaching headlights from either direction of the narrow state road.
Seizing the opportunity, Mickey opened his car door and got out, moving with more alacrity than Shaw would have thought him capable of. The fat man was jazzed. Mickey Bolden relished his line of work.
But so did Shaw. The tequila shots hadn’t given him near the rush that straight-up adrenaline did now.
Being as light-footed as possible, they followed Jordie Bennett as she wended her way through the parking lot. It was jammed with dented pickup trucks and salt-water-corroded heaps. Her recent model sedan was a shiny, sleek standout. She used a key fob to unlock the driver’s door.
Shaw captured another drift of that seductive fragrance as she suddenly did an about-face.
Apparently his and Mickey’s footfalls on the crushed shells hadn’t been as light as they’d thought. Or maybe animal instinct had alerted her to mortal danger. In any case, when she saw them rushing toward her, her lips parted on a quick inhale, her eyes went wide with alarm.
As Mickey swiftly closed the distance between them, his right hand snapped up from his side with precision and deadly purpose.
The sound suppressor on the pistol muffled the shot, but in the surrounding stillness, the spitting noise seemed as loud to Shaw’s ears as a fire alarm.
Mickey dropped like a sack of cement, his ravaged head hemorrhaging a red tide over the crushed shells.
Jordie Bennett watched in horror as a stream of blood funneled toward her sandals. Then she looked up at Shaw, who still held his pistol shoulder high and extended toward her. He said, “My half just doubled.”
FBI Special Agent Joe Wiley was just about to sit down to a meal of pork pot roast when his cell phone rang.
His wife, Marsha, frowned. She’d had to warm up the dish for him, because he’d come home too late to eat with her and the kids. But she knew better than to object when he said, “Sorry, hon, I need to take it,” and clicked on his phone. “Is this important, Hick? I’m sitting down to eat.”
“Hate to interrupt,” Agent Greg Hickam said, sounding earnest. “But, yes, it’s important. Knew you’d want to hear it ASAP.”
Giving Marsha an apologetic look, Joe stepped into the utility room. “Okay, I’m listening.”
“A few hours ago, Mickey Bolden was found dead in Terrebonne Parish, outside a backwater beer joint about a fifteen-minute drive from Tobias.”
And just like that, a hot meal was no longer in Joe’s immediate future.
He dragged his hand down his face, over his mouth, past his chin. “I don’t suppose there could be more than one Mickey Bolden.”
“Probably, but this is the one we know and love. Loved.”
“Clarify ‘found dead.’ I’m guessing he didn’t pass peacefully in his sleep.”
“Hollow tip fired into the back of his head. Blew most of his face off.”
“Then how do they know it’s him?”
- "STING is Sandra Brown running on all cylinders."—Fort Worth Star-Telegram
- "Brown continues her transformation from the queen of romantic suspense to the queen of thriller form- eriod... Gritty, crime noir at its absolute best. Superb in all respects." —Providence Sunday Journal
- "Brown is an excellent and almost effortless writer...The chemistry is undeniable."—Kirkus Reviews
- "Brown crafts facets and depths of characters in a taut novel full of surprises."—Booklist
- "[An] exceptional romantic thriller... Brown handles the romance with her usual panache and adds some nifty plot twists that will keep readers guessing."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- On Sale
- Jul 25, 2017
- Page Count
- 480 pages
- Grand Central Publishing