Home > Dead Draw (Perfect Play #1)

Dead Draw (Perfect Play #1)
Author: Layla Reyne


For Kristi

Thank fuck you always know the right place to start






Marsh was fucked. He couldn’t pinpoint any single moment or event when it had all gone to shit. It was more like a cascade—or an avalanche.

He grimaced at the thought. He fucking hated snow. He’d been born and raised in the Texas desert, then had spent half his life in a different desert on the other side of the world. He didn’t do snow. Four years in Europe was enough. He never wanted to see the white flaky shit again if he could help it.

It had been snowing that night in Vienna. Three years ago. When the windows had rattled with the force of an explosion five kilometers away.

That moment, he could say with certainty, was when the fuckening had begun.

Had led him to this moment. A hotel room in San Diego, his computer monitors arranged on the desk so there was a sliver of Pacific Ocean visible between them. Moonlight reflected on the dark rippling water outside, same as it did across the rail yard crawling with federal agents on one of his monitors.

Across the face of the beautiful, irate federal agent whose raid Marsh had just fucked to high heaven.

“Any sign of them?” Special Agent Levi Bishop called to the other agents on-site.

With each reply of “Clear,” his anger and frustration grew. Hands on his trim hips, high cheekbones swept with silvery light and rosy anger, his perfectly straight nose casting a shadow that darkened one blue eye while the other shone, Agent Bishop could be mistaken for one of those pissed-off wolf shifters in the paranormal romance books Marsh used to borrow from Camp Casey’s mishmash collection of donated paperbacks.

Marsh could be forgiven a fantasy or two about subduing the wolf. Fantasies that were cut short by gunfire that ripped through the speakers and the rail yard on-screen.

Marsh lurched forward in his chair, eyes following the action. Bishop crouched, ran, and hit the ground, facedown in a nearby ditch, elbows braced, pistol aimed forward. Another agent in an FBI windbreaker, his dark hair glossy, his features sharp and focused crawled into the ditch beside him, similarly at the ready.

“Backup advance,” Bishop said over the FBI comms channel Marsh also had access to. Sort of legitimately. He had Special Agent in front of his name too. That counted.

Gravel crunched as other agents on Bishop’s periphery advanced. As if in answer, movement at the opposite end of the yard caught Marsh’s attention. Caught the attention of Bishop too. “FBI! Stop right there!”

Just one step closer, Marsh silently urged.

The lone stranger stepped forward, and having hacked control of the yard’s security system, Marsh flicked on the floodlight at the far end, illuminating the figure without blinding the agents.

Several agents turned, but Agent Bishop remained focused. “FBI! I said stop! Hands up!”

The man, dressed all in black, lifted his arms, a pistol in one hand, hanging upside down, his finger through the trigger guard. “Did you turn those lights on?”

“Who are you?”

“Hired security,” the man said. He spread his arms wider, and that’s when Marsh saw the patch on his outer right shoulder—and Bishop must have seen a similar one on his front. “Name’s Anton Dale.” He was an average-sized white man, midthirties maybe. Given his steady stance and surrendered weapon, Marsh guessed ex-law enforcement—in this town, probably ex-military. “What’s going on?”

“Did you discharge your weapon?” Bishop asked.

“Yeah,” Dale replied. “Aimed high enough not to hit anything. We’ve had a problem with looters lately. That why you’re here?”

“Put the gun on the ground,” the agent beside Bishop ordered.

Dale immediately obeyed, slow and steady. “Did you turn on the lights?” he asked again as he straightened.

“Not us,” radioed the FBI agent running comms.

Bishop kept his pistol trained on Dale. “You working with someone, Mr. Dale?”

“No, just me.” He raised his hands a little higher, spread his fingers a little wider, the first signs of distress. “Just clocked in. What’s going on? Who turned on the lights?”

“Any other movement?” Bishop asked.

“All clear,” came word over the comms.

Judging Dale wasn’t a threat, Agent Bishop stood. “Security was supposed to be off tonight. We’re running an operation.”

“No one told me.”

“Someone clearly told our suspects,” said a familiar voice over the comms. “And I have an idea on the lights.” Marsh grimaced again. She was going to be extra pissed when she confirmed it was him. Would bust his balls like she used to in the desert. “Agent Bishop, finish sweeping the area,” she said. “Determine if your traffickers were ever there, then report back to command. We’ll track down the cyber breach on our end.”

She signed off and so did Marsh. He’d heard enough. His gambit hadn’t worked. Instead of forcing Agent Bishop’s traffickers, who were tied to Marsh’s terrorists, into action, he’d spooked them from acting at all. Or they’d diverted a direction neither he nor Agent Bishop’s team had covered.

He closed his laptops, picked up his phone, and stepped out onto the balcony. He could call his best friend on the East Coast and, despite it being the middle of the night, make Sean listen to him verbally facepalm. Or he could call his other best friend on the West Coast at a slightly more decent hour, likewise bemoan his idiocy, then activate the hackers at Brax’s disposal, including the one who, at this hour, was either in bed beside him or on his own computers running an op for his family’s organization.

And Brax knew better than anyone the shit he’d just stepped into. Marsh opened his favorites list and tapped on the grizzled mug he used to have a crush on.

Brax answered on the second ring. “It’s one in the morning,” he mumbled groggily.

Marsh didn’t mince words. “I went cowboy and fucked up a raid for one of Eagle’s agents.”

“Well, you’re fucked.”

“Tell me something I don’t already know.” Marsh wrapped his fingers around the balcony rail and leaned against the sturdy iron, letting it hold his tired, heavy weight. “Now, get your husband on the line and help me sort a way to unfuck this mess. Please.”



“Your traffickers were tipped off.”

Hours later, Levi’s ASAC’s words still rang in his ears. He pulled into his garage, turned off the car, and lowered the door on the rising sun.

Eighteen months of grueling work ruined.

They’d cleared the rail yard, cleared Mr. Dale, and once back at the office, cleared the security interference. Levi couldn’t ever recall seeing his ASAC so angry. Some cyber jockey—or as the ASAC kept calling him “that fucking cowboy”—on the Bureau’s legal attaché team at The Hague had tipped off the traffickers. Special Agent Marshall had been trying to help supposedly. He’d also been the one to tip off Levi’s ASAC about the rail yard, thinking some cyber bullshit he’d pulled would force Levi’s traffickers’ hand. Agent Marshall wanted to get at someone higher up the ladder, his ASAC had said. Well, all Agent Marshall had done was aid and abet the kidnapping of ten women.

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