Midnight Special


by Tawny Weber

Prologue

HE COULD HAVE BEEN WRAPPED around a sexy redhead, letting her use his body to fulfill any number of her kinkiest desires. He could be playing pirate and the captive wench at that very moment, stripping off his eye patch while singing “Love Machine.”

But, no.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Hunter had figured he’d wrap up the last hour of the day by picking up a low-level criminal reputed to be fencing hot art. Find the guy, work a little intimidation, figure out who he was schlepping bronze nudes for. Easy as one-two-three, done in plenty of time to grab a shower before his date.

Except the dumb-ass fence must’ve had something hot going down, because after finally tracking him down in that skeezy bar in Hoboken ten minutes ago, the guy had taken one look at Hunter’s face, run to his rusty Tempo and peeled out.

Adrenaline racing, he’d chased the idiot over the bridge back into Manhattan. Now, his hands gripping the steering wheel, Hunter stayed glued to the guy’s bumper. He eyed the speedometer. One-twenty heading into a residential district. Probably not a good idea.

As chill as if he were on a Sunday drive, he mentally mapped the area, then pressed down a little harder on the gas so his front fender was level with the Ford’s rear tires. He feinted to the right, as if he was going to ram the guy. He grinned at the wild-eyed stare in the rearview mirror, quickly followed by a look of desperation. The dumb-ass cranked the wheel, taking the first right on two tires.

Hunter smirked, easing back on the gas and letting dumb-ass think he was getting away instead of falling into a trap.

“Special Agent Hunter, in pursuit of suspect in Ford Tempo.” He reeled off the license number and their current location. “Requesting backup at Pier 57. ETA, three minutes.”

Just then, the Ford lost control. The guy bounced his fender off three cars, and then he got stupid. Hunter saw the Ford’s rear glass shatter just in time to duck before the bullet came through his own windshield.

Son of a bitch. This was going to screw up his ETA. To say nothing of his date.

Pissed now, he set his jaw, wrenched hard on the steering wheel and used the momentum of the car ricocheting off the curb to slam into the back end of the other car.

Hunter hated being late.

He didn’t bother pulling his own gun. He just rammed into the back of the idiot’s car. The damned thing exploded. Hunter flinched as the flames lit the night sky, not sure if he was glad or not when the dumb-ass rolled out of the car just before it went kaboom.

The impact of the blast sent his own ride spinning.

He flipped three times, each one sending his brand-new, government-issue vehicle bouncing like a beach ball across the pavement. The seat belt cut viciously across his chest before the air bag deployed with the impact of a fist to the face. Hunter’s head snapped back, his ears ringing like the Liberty Bell.

Freaking A.

As his car slid to a stop, his head kept on spinning like the tires that were whirling in the air. With a growl, Hunter decided that, yeah, he was glad the idiot had been thrown clear. Now he could kick his ass.

Climbing out through the window, he grimaced as his palms met a carpet of broken glass. Pain ripped through his head. Muscles, clenched tight during his little loop-de-loop, seized up painfully.

“Sir?”

Knees drawn up, the back of his head resting against his wrecked car, Hunter opened one eye.

“Ferris.” Figured. The beat cop was Hunter’s age, but gleamed like a bright new penny. Bright, hopeful and so damned young.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m breathing, aren’t I?” As long as the air was hitting his lungs, Hunter was on the job and doing fine. “You get my guy?”

“Layton is rounding him up now. An ambulance is on its way.”

“He needs an ambulance?” Hunter opened both eyes now, squinting across the dock to the other squad car, the cop and the puny idiot who didn’t know how to drive.

“The ambulance is for you.”

Hunter sneered. Then, figuring it’d have more impact if he wasn’t sitting on his ass, he pushed to his feet and shook his head. He regretted the move when the sky did a slow three-sixty. “I’m fine.”

“Uh-huh. Sir, I gotta say, I’ve worked with a handful of feds over the years. Most of them, they’re total paper pushers. But you?” Ferris shook his head, giving Hunter a doleful once-over. “This is the second time in as many weeks I’ve answered a call with you on the other end. Running out of exploding buildings, high-speed car chases... You might want to sit behind your desk once in a while. Push those papers. Give your body time to recover.”

“Desks are for wimps,” he said with a dismissive smirk. Desk jockeys meandered up the ladder. Hunter planned to vault his way up. Eight years on the job and he was a special agent in charge. So far, he was doing pretty damned good, about two years ahead of where his old man had been at his age. Not surprising, since his father had wasted time and energy on marriage and a kid. Of course, as the kid in question, Hunter figured the old man’s choice had worked out fine. But losing his wife when his kid was six had unquestionably put yet another crimp in the career climb. So, while Hunter was more than willing to follow his father’s footsteps as far as his career was concerned, that was as far as it went.

No wife.

No kid.

Just the job.

It’d be nice to quit getting blown up or set on fire, though.

He lifted his hand to the wet patch on his cheek, noted the blood and sighed. Yeah. A break wouldn’t be a bad thing.

“Aren’t you, like, a boss?” Ferris matched his steps to Hunter’s limping stride as they made their way toward the EMTs. “You don’t have to have the crap trashed out of you on a regular basis, right? You could opt out once in a while.”

Well, that was one way of looking at it. Hunter glanced down, saw his new jeans were ripped at the knee, and cussed a mental streak. Dammit. The deputy director wasn’t gonna spring to pay for two pairs of pants in a single month. And the shoes were toast, too.

Behind them, a huge explosion was followed by a gust of fiery air. Bits of metal flew through the air, followed by the sound of the firefighters rushing to contain the conflagration.

There went his car.

“Holy shit.” Ferris turned to watch the blaze.

Hunter didn’t bother looking back.

Not that he’d admit it to anyone, but suddenly the idea of cozying up to a desk for a few days was sounding pretty damned good right this second.

1

A SMART WOMAN KNEW WHAT she wanted, and how to get it.

Marni Clare considered herself damned smart.

Every step she’d taken up the career ladder had been weighed, calculated and carefully thought through. From starting her first newspaper in second grade, to choosing to work as a reporter at smaller papers instead of larger for a chance to build a stronger criminal-reporting portfolio. Right up to her move last year to shift from papers to Optimum, a renowned national magazine that’d give her a stronger gravitas.

Everything she wanted always boiled down to her career. And what she wanted right now was information on a patient who’d been admitted here a week ago. The huge explosion of a derelict warehouse owned by reputed mobster and current FBI prisoner Charles Burns had been all over the news.

What hadn’t been on the news, but Marni had managed to ferret out using her super-reporter insider info, was that someone had been injured, requiring an ambulance ride to this very emergency room.

She wanted to know who that someone was. Everyone was focused on Burns. On the trial, on the odds of a conviction. Marni had the feeling that whatever had gone down in that explosion, whoever had been involved, was the bigger story, though.

And she wanted it.

But sneaking patient information out of a very ethical nurse wasn’t an easy task. It required stealth. A gift with reading people. A little bit of finesse.

And, of course, a bribe.

“I brought you cupcakes. Your favorite, chocolate with raspberry frosting,” Marni said, setting a cute little purple basket on the counter and giving her cousin a bright smile.

“You brought me cupcakes?” Sammi Clare-Warren gave Marni a suspicious look. “Why?”

“Why would I bring my favorite cousin cupcakes?”

“You’re up to something,” Sammi declared knowingly. Still, she did slide the basket closer and sniff at the cupcakes. She gave a hungry little sound, as if she was sniffing at pure temptation, then pushed them back and gave her cousin a narrow look. “What do you want?”

Marni debated. She could tell the truth, that Meghan, Sammi’s sister, said her twin had come home eight days ago raving about the drool-worthy, too-sexy-for-words FBI guy who’d been admitted to Emergency after a building exploded.

Or she could just throw herself out now, muttering a lecture on the sanctity of patient privacy and abuse of family ties.

“Wait...” Sammi gleefully drew the word out like she’d just discovered where Marni kept her secret stash of girly toys. “I know why you’re here.”

“Do you?” Marni wasn’t sure if she should pull on an abashed look or go for guilty. It was hard to tell what Sammi suspected.

“You’re hoping to meet someone.” Sammi’s grin was pure triumph. And now that she’d divined her cousin’s nefarious scheme, she pulled the basket of cupcakes across the counter.

“Seriously? You think I’m trolling the emergency room for a date?” What was wrong with her family? Did they not know her, not at all?

“Why else would you be here at nine o’clock on a Friday night?”

Marni pushed her hand through her hair. Oh, now that was just pathetic. Just because she was the only one of her thirteen cousins still uncommitted didn’t mean she was looking to change that status. Especially not like this. She didn’t figure it conceited to acknowledge that she was a good-looking, intelligent, fun woman. If she wanted a guy, there were plenty of better places than this to find one. But she didn’t want a guy. She wanted a career. A fabulous, famous, reporting-on-big stories career.

Which she’d told her family over and over and over.

“You think I’m here looking for, what?” She gestured to encompass the sterile, run-down room. “An old man with pneumonia and a fat inheritance he’s looking to bequeath? Or a single, male accident victim with a good-paying job that doesn’t live with his mother?”

Sammi peered around the glass partition toward the waiting room, as if checking to see if either of those potential dates had come in. Then she squinted at Marni.

“You make it sound like the only guys we get in here are all messed up.”

“That’s because other than the doctors, whom you’ve already deemed not worth setting me up with—” thank God “—the only guys you get in here are all messed up.”

Choosing the cupcake with the most frosting, Sammi peeled back the paper liner and took a big bite.

“Then why are you here looking for a date?” she asked around her mouthful of chocolate.

Marni buried her face in her hands and groaned.

“Hey, some of those messed-up guys are pretty good-looking. There’s a car accident victim in room five right now even you would drool over. He has that smoldering, sexy thing going on. And muscles. Talk about hot. His shoulders are to die for.”

Sammi sighed so deep, she sent the papers on her nursing station fluttering. Marni wasn’t sure any man was worth that much oxygen. Not even the one she was after.

Then again, what she wanted from him had nothing to do with the size of his...shoulders. And everything to do with the Charles Burns case. Indicted on SEC fraud and money laundering, the wealthy CEO was on his way to trial. After his dockside warehouse had exploded last week, rumors had started flying that the feds were going to bring new charges.

If she could get a handle on what they were, even an inkling about what had gone down with that explosion, she could write the article of her life. The one that would launch her out of the questionable fluff as the senior editor of Style and Entertainment and into the nitty-gritty of real reporting. Investigative reporting.