LARGER THAN LIFE
print edition
SG-5 #6
May 31, 2005

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Larger Than Life

LARGER THAN LIFE
digital edition
SG-5 #6
November 18, 2014

https://goo.gl/oN7kaP

   

After being beaten and left for dead in the New Mexico desert, Smithson Group agent Mick Savin tries to piece together his last few days. He remembers bits and pieces: gathering crucial intel. An ambush by Spectra thugs. And then… nothing, except waking up in some medical center in rural West Texas. His mission was top secret. So how did he end up here?

The answer is Neva Case. If the former big-city attorney hadn’t been out in her pickup, Mick wouldn’t be alive. Mick’s never met anyone quite like Neva. She’s smart, sexy, and passionate. She also has a secret. Neva runs the Big Brown Barn, an underground shelter for young girls forced into unwanted polygamist marriages. Neva would do anything for these girls—and that’s what worries Mick. Neva may be trusting, but Mick’s instincts tell him that something’s not quite right. He’s not about to let someone get to Neva and the girls on his watch. Especially when one of the girls brings trouble straight to the barn's front door...

Now, with the shelter in unimaginable danger and time running out, Mick is in for the fight of his life, one that could cost him the woman he’s come to love more than anything…

Read an Excerpt

BOOKLIST

The Comfort of Favorite Things - Bliss and the Art of Forever - The Sweetness of Honey - Beneath the Patchwork Moon - Boots Under Her Bed - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock(Digital Edition) - Unforgettable - The Second Chance Café - Unbreakable - Undeniable - Holiday Kisses/This Time Next Year - Twenty-One Hours/SEAL of My Dreams - At His Mercy - Playing Love's Odds (Digital Edition) - Love Me Tender (Digital Edition) - Love In Bloom - (Digital Edition) - The Icing On The Cake - With Extreme Pleasure - One Good Man - No Limits - A Long, Hard Ride - Maximum Exposure - Kiss & Tell - Deep Trouble - In Danger - At Risk - Tex Appeal - The Perfect Stranger - Beyond A Shadow - Infatuation - The Complete Idiot's Guide To Writing Erotic Romance - Deep Breath - Goes Down Easy - Red Letter Nights - Totally Charmed - Kiss & Makeup - Undressed - Larger Than Life - Sara Smiles/Beach Blanket Bad Boys - The McKenzie Artifact - The Beach Alibi - The Samms Agenda - The Shaughnessey Accord - The Bane Affair - Mother, Please! - Indiscreet - Wicked Games - A Blue Christmas/Jingle Bell Rock - Striptease - The Sweetest Taboo - Bound To Happen - No Strings Attached - Roped Into Romance - All Tied Up - Love In Bloom - Four Men & A Lady - Love Me Tender - The Badge And The Baby - The Grinch Makes Good - The Heartbreak Kid - Call Me - Playing Love's Odds

“Run, Liberty! Run, run, run!”

She couldn’t run because she couldn’t see where she was going. Didn’t he get that? She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think. He was out of his mind.

“Jase, I can’t!” She sobbed, choked, stopped, and wailed. “I can’t!”

She spit hair from out of her mouth, spit dirt, swore she spit bugs. It was gross and disgusting, and he was never going to get away with what he’d done anyway, so why did she have to run?

Jase came back to where she stood clawing her hair from her face. He grabbed her wrist and jerked her forward, practically breaking her arm. “You better move your ass or I’m going to leave you here, got it?”

She nodded, whimpered, stumbled along behind him. She was wearing her best pair of sandals and she’d spent all afternoon doing her toenails for tonight’s date. And now it was all ruined.

Ruined.

Ruined because Jase was stupid and greedy. Stealing money from the printing and office supply store where he worked-what was wrong with him? They paid him more than minimum wage, good enough money to take her out for a salad and Diet Coke any time she wanted to go.

All he had to do was make the store’s deliveries and daily deposits, running some of the money into Odessa or El Paso because of the banks being bigger or something like that. Why did he have to be stupid enough to take what wasn’t his? Why did she have to-

“Jase!” She tripped, wrenched her wrist from his hand and went down to the ground in the dark. Dirt clods and rocks the size of Lego pieces dug into her hands and her knees.

She pushed up to a kneeling position, picked the grit from her palms. Tears blurred her eyes and made it impossible to see anything. It was too dark to see anything anyway. The moon was out, but they were in the middle of freakin’ nowhere on his father’s ranch.

She just knew they were lost, and wished at least they were lost on an island with a beach like those people on that show she used to watch before her parents got religion and banned TV from the house. She hated Texas and was never going to forgive either of them for moving her away from California and all of her friends.

Jase skidded to his knees beside her, throwing more dust into the air for her to gag on. She tried not to cough, tried not to cry. She even held back yelling at him for being so dumb since it hadn’t done any good so far. But then he pulled her head to his chest and cuddled her close, and she forgot why she was mad.

This was all she wanted, being with a boy who liked her, away from her parents and the stupid way they tried to run her life, even though she knew she was really lucky. A bunch of girls her age at school had been promised by their parents to men old enough to be their fathers.

Men already married to two or three other women. It made her sick to her stomach to even think about it! Like who would want to sleep with a guy and get sloppy seconds?

“Liberty, listen.” Jase set her away from him, lifted her chin. “I know you’re tired and scared, but we’re almost there. We’ve got to be. I just didn’t know it would take so long on foot. I’m usually on my ATV.”

Yeah. Not to mention he was usually stoned since he used the hunting blind to smoke pot. “They’re going to find us anyway.”

“Maybe.” He sat back, rubbed his hands up and down his thighs, the denim all scratchy and loud in the really quiet wide open spaces. “But maybe we can hide out until this shit blows over.”

Dumb. He was dumb, dumb, dumb. And she was dumb to hang out with him.

“It’s not going to blow over, Jase. Your boss is going to send Holden Wagner after you, you know that. Holden freakin’ Wagner! God! He takes care of all the legal stuff with the businesses in town, and he’ll take care of you, too!” She pulled away, curled into a ball on the ground, totally ruining her outfit.

Holden Wagner was a big shot lawyer in Earnestine Township where she and Jase lived, and one of the most powerful men she’d ever met. Everyone knew him from the church and from around town, Earnestine being such a dinky dot on the map and Holden being the only lawyer and into everybody’s business.

A lot of girls at school thought he was hot. Liberty supposed he was. He was only like thirty-five or something, and wore clothes that she’d never seen anywhere but in People Magazine or on the People’s Choice Awards.

But, still! He could turn a molehill of evidence into a big fat mountain and put Jase away forever! Then what would she do? Who would she have to date? How would she ever get away from this dump? She didn’t have anyone else on her side!

Jase tried to clear his throat. “Yeah, well, Holden’s not really the one I’m worried about.”

Liberty heard the break in his voice and grew still. “What do you mean, he’s not the one you’re worried about? Who else is there?”

“Holden may be all powerful, but even he can’t get away with murder. I’m not so sure that’s the case with the guys I’m dealing with here. The amount of money I took? It can’t be legal, which means they won’t be going to the sheriff. They’ll be taking care of it themselves.”

She sat up slowly, her ears ringing with the word murder. Murder! Her heart thudded in her throat until she thought she would never again be able to breathe.

“Jase? What’s going on?” Her hands were shaking so badly she drew up her legs to her chest and tucked her fingers in the pits of her knees. Her voice cracked and she barely managed to whisper, “Tell me what’s going on.”

Jase sighed, hung his head. Light from the moon made his bleached blond hair look white, the spikes look like tufts of dead grass. The hoop in his ear sparkled. Sweat ran down his cheeks from his temples. “It wasn’t only a couple grand like I said.”

“What are you talking about?” Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!

“It was a couple hundred grand. There’s no way it was all the store’s money.”

She started rocking back and forth where she sat. “You stole two hundred thousand dollars?”

He shoved both hands through his hair, clamped them down on top of his head. “The deposit slip said one thing, but there was an extra two hundred G’s in the bag.”

“So you just kept it? Not even knowing whose it was?” She sounded hysterical. Shoot, she was hysterical! “What is wrong with you? What were you thinking?”

“I was thinking about us, Lib,” he yelled back, really screaming now. His voice echoed in the night. “I was thinking about you. I want us to get out of here. Me off the ranch and away from my dad. You so far away from your parents that they could never force you to marry some old geezer.”

He was rocking now, too, and almost crying. “This town is fucked up, Lib. Pastor Straight’s hold over everyone is insane. It’s like a commune or a cult, and the way the church treats the women is as bad as the Taliban. I’m not going to stay here. I want you to come with me. We only have to hide out a few days, wait for whoever the money belongs to to lose our trail, then we can hitch to Mexico.”

Everything he was saying suddenly made so much sense. She’d been so wrong. He wasn’t stupid. Not if he could get her out of here. He was smart, and she decided then that she loved him and wanted to be with him forever. “Don’t you think they’ll look for you in the hunting blind?”

“No, see, that’s the beauty of this.” He scooted closer, excited now. “My dad tore down the blind two seasons back. He hasn’t leased out that plot since and has no idea I put it back up and come out here all the time.”

She didn’t respond right away, and he went on. “We’ll only stay tonight if it makes you feel better. We’ll hide out long enough to come up with another plan. That’s all we’ve gotta do, Lib. That’s all.”

His desperation tugged at her heartstrings like he was playing music just for her. “Okay, okay. But I broke the thong on my shoe and have to go barefoot. I don’t know if I can keep up with you.”

He got to his feet, brushed dirt from the butt and knees of his jeans. “C’mon. I’ll piggyback you.”

He was so totally cute sometimes. She shook her head. She could do this. She could. “No, I’ll be fine.” She pulled off the scarf she’d wrapped around her waist like a belt. “I’ll just tie the shoe to my foot-”

“Shh. Listen.” He backed a couple of steps away. “Do you hear that?”

She did. A diesel engine grinding hard as the truck it belonged to fought the uneven terrain. She knew the sound well. Eighty percent of Earnestine’s population of just under four thousand drove the same.

She finished tying her shoe to her foot, though didn’t know why she bothered. They’d issue her some pair of tacky granny lace-ups in jail, because back in California she’d watched enough cop shows to know she’d be charged as an accessory. Unless she was killed, too, she thought with a big fat ugly-sounding sob.

“Stay here,” Jase ordered. “Don’t move. I’m going to draw them away.”

“No, Jase!” Panic rose in her throat and tasted like the bad cheesy ranch dressing she’d had on her salad at the Dairy Barn.

“I’ll lose them and circle back to get you. Just stay put.”

He would never find this place again. She’d be lost out here forever. “Wait! I’ll come with you!”

But he was already running away. “I love you, Liberty. I love you!”

“Jase, no!” She couldn’t even see him anymore. He’d vanished into the darkness. She was alone with dirt and rocks and creepy crawly things. This was all so sucky and so so stupid.

The truck was getting closer. She could hear the gears shifting, hear men shouting. Shaking like mad, she wrapped her arms around her knees and tucked her chin to her chest, praying Jase was as fast dodging tumbleweeds as he was dodging tackles on the football field.

A second later she heard a loud thudding pop. What looked like a bottle rocket arched up and burst in the sky. A flare, she realized, just as she heard the voices yelling.

“There he is!”

“Get the sonofabitch!”

“Go, go, go!”

The driver gunned the truck, drowning out any further words she might’ve heard. She felt the dampness on her cheeks only when her tears soaked into the knees of her jeans.

The second shot she heard was not from a flare gun. Neither were the three that followed. When she heard Jase scream, her entire body jolted. When she heard laughter and howling, she began to shake uncontrollably.

It wasn’t until she heard footsteps behind her that she managed to go blessedly numb.

She lifted her chin, lifted her gaze, watched the figure of a man come toward her like a ghost out of the dark. Once he was near enough for her to see him better, her being numb came in handy. She couldn’t react. Not to his camo fatigues. Not to his assault rifle. Not to the knife hanging from his belt halfway down his thigh.

When he reached her, he held out a hand. She gave him her fingers, eerily white against his black skin, and he pulled her to her feet. Then he pointed toward the sky.

“Do you know of the North Star, Miss Mitchell?”

Oh, God, he knew her name. He knew her name! It sounded strange when he said it; his accent reminded her of the rapper Sean Paul that Jase was constantly listening to. It was like Jamaican or something . . .

“Miss Mitchell? The North Star?”

She nodded, her teeth chattering as she found the point in the sky. “My folks used to take me and my brother camping when we lived in California. Before they got all into Jesus and we moved here.” At least here she’d met Jase. They were like two peas in a pod, both hating Earnestine.

Or at least they had been . . . “What happened to Jase? Where is he? He didn’t mean anything bad by taking that money. We just both want to get out of this town-”

“You must do what I say now, Miss Mitchell, and not worry about your Mr. Bremmer. Do you understand?” He took her by the shoulders, turned her to face him. “There is nothing you can do for him now.”

She nodded, tears welling in her eyes, wondering if her hair would look as good as his did in dreadlocks, wondering if she would ever see Jase again, wondering where she was going to go because she couldn’t go home.

Wondering how anyone could be so nice when he took the bandana from his head and used it to wipe the tears from her cheeks.

“You follow the North Star for an hour and you will come to the county highway. You walk and you do not speak of tonight to anyone. You do not ask questions. You act as if none of what you heard or saw happened. If you do, you may very possibly die. And I may very possibly be the one to kill you. Do you understand?”

She didn’t understand anything. “Nothing,” she wanted to scream. Instead, she asked, “Where am I supposed to go?”

“You are only supposed to walk. That is all that you can do now.” He placed his hand in the middle of her back and pushed. “Now go. Go before it is too late.”

She’d only gone twenty steps when her shoe came off. She was not going to be able to walk like this for an hour and turned back to tell him so, but he was nowhere to be seen.

God, if her parents hadn’t gotten all righteous and moved here for the family’s spiritual good, she would have dozens of places to go and people to help her. If she actually made it to the highway, maybe she could hitch to El Paso and find a library where she could get on the internet.

She had to find that Website. The one she’d overheard Sherry Petersen whisper about to Teresa Monaghan the day after Sherry’s sister went missing and her wedding to Mr. Gaston was canceled.

Sherry swore her sister was with the woman who ran the rescue shelter for girls escaping the arranged marriages in Earnestine. What was it? What was it?

All Liberty could remember was something about a barn.