Eric Caldwell walked a fine line with the law, but he didn’t care. He had trusted the Feds before and people had died. He didn’t intend to let it happen to this witness.
Even if he and his brother, Cain, fought again. Cain, always the good guy, the one on the right side of the law. The man who never saw the grays.
The only color Eric did see.
“Come on, Eric, where’s the witness in the Bronsky case?” Cain asked.
“What?” Sarcasm laced Eric’s voice. “Did the police lose another witness?”
“We do the best we can,” his brother said. “Do you know where he is?”
Eric grabbed a Marlboro and pushed it into the corner of his mouth. “Sorry, can’t help you, bro.”
Cain hissed, his message ringing loud and clear. Eric was lying, but Cain knew better than to push it. Eric would do whatever he could to keep the witness alive. “You can’t go around undermining the cops and the FBI, Eric, or killing every criminal who escapes the system.”
He glared at Cain over the duffel bag he’d been packing. “I didn’t kill anyone.”
Cain’s gaze turned deadly. “I don’t want to see your vigilante ways get you in trouble. It’s like you’re on a death mission, taking everything into your own hands.” Cain’s voice thickened. “One day you’re going to cross the wrong people.”
Eric ignored the concern in Cain’s warning, zipped his bag, then threw it over his shoulder, grabbed his keys and strode toward the door. “Like you don’t cross the wrong kind all the time.”
“It’s not the same thing,” Cain argued. “I have people covering me. You’re on your own.”
Eric hesitated. “You could quit the force and help me. Make it your New Year’s resolution.”
“New Year’s has come and gone,” Cain said. Their gazes locked briefly and Eric’s stomach clenched. His brother was serious. “Join the force, Eric, and work with the law, not against us.”
But Eric could not fit the mold. “I guess we hit that impasse again.” He snagged his laptop off the counter.
Cain’s jaw tightened. “Watch your back. If you get into trouble -”
“Then you’ll be there to help me.” A cocky grin slid onto Eric’s face. “Now, I’d love to stay and talk politics but I gotta go.”
Cain caught his arm before he could fly past. “Where are you going?”
Eric stared him down hard, the way he had when they were boys and they’d argued over whether or not to interfere when things had gone sour at home. When their father had taken his rage out on their mother and them. “I have business to finish,” he said between clenched teeth. “Legitimate business at the ranch.”
His brother studied him, didn’t believe him. Eric didn’t care.
Or maybe he did, but he would do what he had to do anyway.
Mottled storm clouds rolled across the sky as he headed outside, thunder rumbling above the trees. The wind howled off the lake, a haunting reminder of the bleakness that had become his life.
He didn’t have time for self-analysis, though. He had to get the witness to a safe house, then meet that woman his friend Polenta had sent his way. She’d sounded desperate, as if she was in trouble. And there was a kid involved. Some baby named Simon. The woman hadn’t made sense. She claimed they were after the baby, that he was the product of a research experiment.
He’d known then he had to help her and the child. He’d even considered confiding in Cain, but she had turned to him for a reason. Because she couldn’t trust the cops.
The reason he did what he did.
Eric could never say no to a woman or child in trouble. Not when his own past haunted him, when memories of his mother’s suicide still sent sweat trickling down his spine. Years ago, he’d started working with an underground organization to help women escape abusive homes so they didn’t meet the same fate, and their children didn’t suffer from abuse themselves. Someone had to help them break the cycle.
He jogged down the front-porch steps two at a time, heading toward the lean-to where he’d parked the Jeep. Thankfully, his brother followed him to the porch. The witness was hiding in the back room, waiting to escape out the side door, then slip through the woods to the SUV.
Rocks and gravel sprayed beneath his boots as he walked, the sting of his brother’s disapproval burning his back. He shrugged it off, tossed his duffel bag into the back seat along with his computer and saw the witness crawl into the passenger seat. He waited until Cain turned before he went to retrieve the cash he kept stashed in the shed for emergencies.
Shaded by the thick forest of trees between his property and the road, he stepped toward the knotty pines. But a sudden explosion rent the air, the impact throwing him against a tree. Glass shards and flying metal assaulted him. He banged his head and tasted dirt, then jerked around on his knees in shock. His Jeep had exploded. A fireball rolled off it toward the sky. Ignoring the blinding pain that seared him, he lurched forward to rescue the witness, but another explosion rocked the ground and sent him hurling backward again into the woods.
Fire breathed against his skin, catching his clothes and singeing his arms and legs. A jagged rock pierced his skull.
The world went momentarily dark, the crackle of fire eating into the night. Eric pulled himself from the haze and tried to yell for help, but his vocal cords shut down. The smoke and fire robbed him of air. He coughed, inhaling the acrid odor of his own burning flesh. Pain, intense and raw, seared him. Flames clawed at his face, and pieces of hot metal stabbed his thigh. Then dizziness swept over him.
He released a silent scream into the night, welcoming death and telling his brother goodbye.