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She glanced back at Papps. She'd found the shooter, but her options were still limited. She was irritated at herself for not bringing her weapon with her. All she'd wanted to do was catch a few moments of quiet before the sun rose. Now that had turned out to be a deadly mistake.

No doubt the retired senator had a score of enemies, but he wasn't the only one who'd been on the receiving end of death threats. There was simply no way to know at this point which of them was the target. She glanced back down at Papps's side. The bandana was already soaked, but she was unsure how much was blood and how much was water. Her heart pounded. A dog barked in the distance. Butch, Papps's Labrador, was already retrieving ducks at their hunting site, and no one had any idea what was going on.

"Stay with me, Papps," she said. "I'm getting you out of here. Can you hold this against your side?" She pressed his hand against the cloth.

"I'll try."

"I'm going after him," she said. "Right now we're pinned down."

"Aubrey, don't..."

She caught the panic in his voice, but she didn't have a choice. She kept low, her boots pressing into the mud as she headed toward where she'd seen the shadowy figure. He was still out there. Waiting. Stalking. She stopped behind a large clump of marsh reeds, not moving, barely breathing, and tried not to shiver. Even with her waterproof gear she could still feel the cold seeping through to her skin.

Show me what to do, God. Leaving Papps could mean he bleeds out, but if I go back... If I don't stop this person...

Aubrey caught movement to her right and turned toward the figure, but she was a fraction of a second too late. He grabbed her, slamming her onto the ground. She groaned as she landed on her back, opened her mouth, and tried to fill her lungs with air, but the muscles in her chest refused to work.

"Don't scream." He stood over her, gun pointed at her head. "Don't make a sound, or your friend is going to end up with another bullet hole."

"What do you want?" she asked.

"You're coming with me."

He dragged her toward the water where a small boat bobbed next to the shoreline. The familiar sounds of duck hunting surrounded them while the sun continued to slowly move above the horizon. So Nico had made good on his threat. She had no idea how he'd found her here. She hadn't mentioned to anyone except a couple of close friends where she was going.

She felt the barrel of his gun jab into her rib cage. "Get in the boat, on your knees. Now."

She hesitated before obeying, knowing if she got on that boat and left with him, she was as good as dead. The bottom was wet with an inch of cold water, but that was the least of her worries. If someone didn't find Papps quickly, he was going to bleed out and die. And if she didn't get away, his family would eventually find her body floating in the water. If she was going to get out of this alive, she had to escape.

She spun around and jammed her elbow into the man's Adam's apple. He countered by throwing a wild punch at her, but she managed to duck, then block his punch. She screamed as he swung at her again. This time, she prayed Papps's boys would hear her. She leveraged her weight to her advantage and blocked another punch, then struck the guy hard beneath his chin. But she wasn't the only one trained in self-defense. A second later, he swung the butt of his weapon against her temple, and everything went dark.


CHAPTER TWO

Jack Shannon pulled into the parking lot in front of the restaurant located a couple blocks from Oso Bay where he'd agreed to meet his brother. At 7:00 a.m. the place was buzzing with the breakfast crowd, though he wasn't surprised. The hole-in-the-wall eatery had the best fish tacos he'd ever tasted, both in and out of Corpus Christi, and had been one of his favorite go-to places back in high school after basketball games.

He and his brother had been close back then, but over the years they'd managed to drift apart. He always made a trip home for the holidays—most years anyway—to their parents' house in Dallas where the couple had retired, but after he'd left Corpus, things had never been the same between him and Adam. And a big part of him still regretted letting that happen.

Adam was heading toward him as Jack stepped out of his car. His brother looked younger than his thirty-two years and still just as fit as he'd always been.

Jack glanced at his watch. "I'm not late, am I?"

"Early, actually. But we've got a problem. I'm sorry to bail on you, but I just got a call from the local sheriff."
...

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