Lay It Down: A Desert Dogs Novel

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9780451471260: Lay It Down: A Desert Dogs Novel
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PRAISE FOR CARA MCKENNA

ALSO BY CARA MCKENNA

SIGNET ECLIPSE

Chapter 1

Alex Dunn studied the bottle before him. Hunkered down, chin on crossed arms, he had his eyes level with the label, too close to bring into focus. The whole world was out of focus, frankly.

You’re drunk.

Shocker.

Drunk . . . yet the weird thing was, his head felt like the only place left in this town that made sense.

He couldn’t get the memory of what he’d seen that afternoon out of his head. Vivid, as if he were there now, so much more clear than reality. The brutal August sun baking his neck above the collar of his khaki deputy’s uniform, and that smell—acrid and animal. Smoke and clay. The ground a jumble of displaced red dirt, coyote prints . . . and black, charred bones.

He’d been sent over to the construction site on another matter—a routine permit in need of a department signature—when one of the Mexican workers had run up to him and the foreman, looking shaky and rambling about huesos. The guy said he’d seen something like a shallow grave—sounded like a casualty of the drug trade. After taking a look, Alex had called it in to headquarters, so the matter could be turned over to a detective. He’d tried hard to keep his voice even, not wanting to betray his unease . . . or to undermine his competence any more than he had already, lately. Some people in the department looked at him sideways these days, his off-duty issues with the bottle no secret. In a town as small as Fortuity, Nevada, nobody’s demons stayed private for long.

The foreman had been rip-shit. The construction outfit for the Eclipse resort casino was under the gun with the developers who’d won the bid to design the thing, constantly racing the clock to meet some new deadline, score some juicy early-completion bonus. Alex knew all this well—some deputy or other was forever rushing out to the sites to deal with the latest zoning dispute or sign off on some form, sometimes even the sheriff of Brush County himself. Last thing the foreman wanted was to get shit from his bosses about a criminal investigation that could throw the project into jeopardy and bench a hundred or more workers for who could guess how long. But the law was the law, and bones were bones.

“But money,” Alex told the bottle, tapping it with his knuckle, “is money.” Tap. “Is money.”

Shit. He was so drunk.

But given it was after eight o’clock, and he was through driving anyplace for the evening . . . well, that went without saying. He took another slug.

Jesus, he had to cut back. Before this year, he’d never come to work hungover. He’d known how much he could handle, exactly what time to call it quits, how much water to drink to hit the ground running the next morning. Then his grandfather had passed in January, and he’d begun to make excuses for himself. And he wasn’t dumb. He knew coming to work hungover was just one point on the same slope that ended with drinking on duty, then losing the job entirely. And he loved his job. It was his only reason for staying sober at all now. It was, without hyperbole, his life.

He pushed a button on his phone, lighting up the screen to check the clock. Shit, eleven thirty. God knew sleep wouldn’t be happening tonight, not with the images from this afternoon pacing around and around in his mind. He needed to talk to a friend, not a colleague. Someone discreet, and tough to unsettle. Someone with demons of his own, who’d never made Alex feel judged for his.

On impulse, he opened up his contacts list. Strange, but he couldn’t remember the last time he’d actually phoned Vince. Probably Alex’s best friend, even if they’d drifted off on such different tracks—namely, Vince routinely wound up on the wrong side of the bars in the county jail, and Alex was often the one standing on the other, keys in hand. He cracked a smile at that. The man wasn’t harmless, no, but he wasn’t a real worry, either. He picked a lot of fights and never turned any down. He also got up to some unlicensed bookmaking, but if Vince’s crimes had so-called victims, they sure as shit weren’t innocent ones. As consenting as dance partners, in fact. In light of this creepy business with the bones, Vince’s misdemeanors struck Alex as damn near quaint.

He hit CALL, listened to the tone. Had to be at least a year since he’d last phoned Vince. Didn’t need to, normally. Their paths crossed at least twice a week at the bar, as regular as the sun meeting the horizon.

“Yeah?” came a groggy voice.

Shit, it was Monday. Even Vince Grossier had a job to get to, come dawn. “It’s Alex, man. I wake you up?”

“Nah, just beat to shit from work. What’s up?” Alex could hear him moving, hear the creak of a couch or mattress.

“You heading to Benji’s tonight?” Alex asked.

“Sounds like something I’d do. Just gotta take care of a couple things at home first. You?”

“Already been, but . . . This is gonna sound fucking stupid, but I really need to talk to somebody.”

“You drunk?”

“Yeah. You?”

“Not yet,” Vince said, a smile warming his deep voice. “But I could be in an hour, if you wanna meet me. Buy me a beer and a shot, and I’ll listen to whatever you got to say.”

An hour, no problem. The walk into town only took twenty minutes—Alex’s nightly commute. “I’ll be there. I had a weird fucking day, Vince. Saw something I don’t know what to make of, down by one of the development sites this afternoon. These bones . . . Fuck, I’m just rattled, man.”

“Color me intrigued. But do me one favor first, and drink a load of water.” He sounded distracted, like he was looking for something. “I got no plans to drive, and I’m not chauffeuring you home in a wheelbarrow.”

“Yeah. Yeah, good idea.”

“Later.” And Vince was gone.

Alex’s heart felt lighter by a degree, and he swallowed another gulp without meaning to. Damn. He’d slow down, now. Maybe stick to water at the bar—there was a first time for everything, right? He needed to stay coherent. He needed to vent about the gruesome shit he’d seen more than he needed to get numb tonight. Vince Grossier surely had one of the more questionably calibrated moral compasses in Fortuity, but at least an hour from now, Alex would have told somebody. Keeping it to himself felt like having hands hugging his windpipe.

A knock rattled through the room. If he’d been sober, he’d have jumped. Instead, he got unsteadily to his feet, muscles clumsy as he aimed himself toward the door off the kitchen. Maybe it was Vince? No, of course not. They’d hung up two minutes ago. But he couldn’t imagine who else it might be—all the respectable folks would be in bed by this hour. Just so long as it wasn’t an emergency. He wasn’t fit to wear his badge right now.

The knock sounded again. “Coming, coming. Hang on . . .”

The knob was cool in his hand, unyielding. He fumbled with the lock, jerked the thing open. And almost like magic, there on his stoop stood just the man he needed to see.

Chapter 2

Four days later

Vince killed the bike’s throttle and knocked the kickstand down, swung his leg to the ground. The parking lot’s gravel was glowing deep red and shadows fell long, a sure sign sunset was drawing near. With it would come a respite from the summer’s broiling heat.

With a sore back and a dogging thirst, he strolled into the big front room of the old, wood-frame Western bar. Stepping inside Benji’s always felt like tugging on a soft old tee shirt and toeing off your boots, a place where workday stress got shed and forgotten, worries left to drift up among the thick rafters crisscrossing the high ceiling. There was worn honey-colored wood everywhere, and plenty of windows to let in the sun, or act as mirrors after dark. It was quiet for now, just the old-timers off in their corner by the jukebox.

That machine might as well play vinyl, for all the modernity the afternoon crowd craved. As long as the sun was shining, the patrons favored Hank Sr., Waylon Jennings, Johnny, Merle. Maybe the odd Chesney track, but always country between four and eight, for the early-rising cattlemen and the retirees. Once they got their fill of the muted news showing on the bar’s lone TV, they’d shuffle off into the night, and then the hard stuff would reign—bass and drums and screamy cock-rock lyrics arriving with the quarry rats who favored that noise. Quarry rats like Vince, and all the other guys who worked up at Petroch Gravel. It was only dinnertime, though. The acoustic guitar and yodeling laments would hold court for at least another hour.

Whole damn town feels like a tragic country ballad just now, he thought.

It was Friday, and Alex Dunn had been lowered into the ground scarcely twenty-four hours ago—killed in a drunk driving accident, the story went. He’d had his demons, no doubt, but Fortuity was down one of its finer souls with him gone. Angels were in short supply here in purgatory. A sinner like Vince ought to know.

Raina was behind the bar, as always. Too goddamn hot, with her wild, dark hair, wicked smile, and those shirts she wore, trading a peek of lacy bra cup for stellar tips. She offered a nod. “Vince.”

“Raina.” He unsnapped the straps at his wrists and peeled away his gloves, shoving them into his pockets.

“Usual?”

He nodded and gave the place another pan. “Quiet night.”

“Quiet town,” she countered, twisting the cap off his bottle. “Enjoy it while it lasts. Who knows what this place’ll look like in a couple years, once the tourists arrive.”

He made a sour face as he paid for the beer, always a touch bitter on the topic of the casino. The town referendum had been the first thing he’d ever registered to vote on, and he’d cast his ballot against the development. He liked his town the way it was, didn’t want it turned into an amusement park for outsiders, no matter what the new mayor had to say about the economic benefits. Fat lot of good his vote had done, in the end. Kind of wrecked a man’s enthusiasm for the process.

Raina made a face of her own, a thoughtful one, and poured him a shot of whiskey, sliding it over the pockmarked wood.

“What’s this for?”

“I know you’re not pissed just on account of my mentioning the casino. We lost a friend this week, a damn good man.”

Vince bowed his head in a stiff acknowledgment of grief. He didn’t like grief. As a man who made as few attachments as possible, he found the pain of it unpracticed. Cumbersome. Disturbing.

Even more disturbing was that creepy-ass phone call from Alex the night he’d died. It had woken Vince from a nap and had not really registered fully. When Alex hadn’t shown up that night at Benji’s, he just thought he must have passed out and forgotten about the whole thing. Then he’d gotten the news of Alex’s crash first thing Tuesday morning, standing around the coffeemaker in the Petroch Gravel break room . . . Hit him like a truck. It knocked the details of the call right out of his head for a couple days. It wasn’t until the priest had said the bit about ashes to ashes and dust to dust that Vince had remembered. Remembered, and started turning the conversation around in this head.

Bones.

Something about bones had freaked Alex out, the afternoon before he died. Something he’d seen. Something maybe he wasn’t supposed to have seen. It didn’t sit right, not one bit. And Vince had a nasty feeling that explaining his worries to anybody else was going to prove an exercise in frustration.

He downed the shot, feeling beat. Feeling older than he ever had. And he’d never quite noticed until now how old Raina had gotten. Not that she was old—she’d been a couple years behind Vince in school, which made her about thirty-two. But he could still picture her at fourteen, could remember teasing her from the back of the school bus as it bumped thirty long miles up and down the rural routes. Jeremiah had always been beside him even then, telling him to knock it off. Alex, too. Though Alex had stayed on the straight and narrow even after Vince had begun making a sport of misdemeanors. They’d stayed friendly, if not near as tight as Vince and Miah—the two of them were brothers, practically. Though that didn’t make losing Alex any easier.

Raina took away the shot glass. “Where’s your shadow tonight?” She meant Miah.

“On his way.”

“’Course he is.” What was her look saying? Bit cagey, Vince thought, and with good reason—she and Miah were over. Way over, whether Miah was happy about that or not. She still wanted him, though. Vince might be shit at remembering a woman’s birthday or even her last name, but he could read those sexual signals like a second language.

“Got matches?” he asked.

She knew what he was after, and she poked around under the counter until she found a box of the wooden kind.

Vince stole two, sticking one in his breast pocket and the other between his lips. Christ, he missed cigarettes. Three months since he’d broken up with the fuckers, and they still dogged him.

He moved the matchstick to the corner of his lips and took a pull off his bottle. Setting it back down, he met Raina’s eyes. “So. Guess who’s coming back to town.”

“Who?”

He grinned. “Case.”

Raina’s look said it all—Oh Lord, Casey Grossier. “Good God, how long’s he been away? Ten years?”

“Nearly.” If Vince was a junkyard mutt, tethered to his ratty little kingdom, then his brother, Casey, was a stray—restless, a wanderer, perpetually up to no good. A true prodigal son of Fortuity. A true son of their old man, come to that.

“He missed the funeral,” she said.

“Not coming home for that—not exactly. He and Alex were never that close.”

“What do you mean, not exactly? What’s he coming home for?”

Vince stared at the bar, his stomach going sour.

“What? Is it your mom?” Vince didn’t talk about his mother much, but Raina knew the woman wasn’t well—not in the head. That was common knowledge. “Is she ill?”

“Not exactly.”

“Again with the not-exactlys.”

He held Raina’s gaze and got right down to the meat of what really had him torn up. “Do you believe Alex got himself killed, driving drunk?”

She blinked. “’Course I do. He was found dead behind the wheel. His blood alcohol was like, ethanol. I read the report in the paper, same as everybody else.”

Sheriff Tremblay served as the county coroner. Though the blowhard didn’t have a fan in Vince, he had to feel bad for the man, charged with toe-tagging his best deputy.

“Alex never drove drunk a day in his life,” Vince said.

“Maybe not,” Raina allowed. “Not until Monday night. But Vince, I’ve also not seen him sober after ten p.m. since his grandfather passed. Not if he’s off duty. It was only a matter of ti—”

“Watch yourself.” He’d gone cold, and so had his tone. Raina looked spooked, like she was staring down a double barrel, and he softened up quick. “Just . . . watch what yo...

Présentation de l'éditeur :

First in the exciting new Desert Dog series, starring hot and sexy bikers in the Southwest...

Backbreaking days, wild nights, and the hard hum of steel between your thighs...


That’s a life well lived, according to the Desert Dogs—four friends who call Fortuity, Nevada, their badlands home.

Vince Grossier is the self-crowned outlaw king around here. But when Fortuity’s slick new mayor invites a casino development to town, greed isn’t far behind—and it claims Vince’s good friend as its first casualty. With the law turning a blind eye to the mysterious death, Vince must seek his own brand of justice. The pretty photographer hired by the developers might be the key to uncovering the truth. And she’s a temptation too good to pass up.

Finally free of a controlling ex, Kim Paget’s not looking to be taken for a ride—not on the back of some tattooed roughneck’s bike and definitely not in his bed. But when she uncovers evidence supporting Vince’s suspicions of murder, Kim must entrust her safety to a man whose body threatens danger of a whole different kind.

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Description du livre Signet Book, United States, 2014. Paperback. État : New. 170 x 106 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. First in the exciting new Desert Dog series, starring hot and sexy bikers in the Southwest. Backbreaking days, wild nights, and the hard hum of steel between your thighs. That s a life well lived, according to the Desert Dogs four friends who call Fortuity, Nevada, their badlands home. Vince Grossier is the self-crowned outlaw king around here. But when Fortuity s slick new mayor invites a casino development to town, greed isn t far behind and it claims Vince s good friend as its first casualty. With the law turning a blind eye to the mysterious death, Vince must seek his own brand of justice. The pretty photographer hired by the developers might be the key to uncovering the truth. And she s a temptation too good to pass up. Finally free of a controlling ex, Kim Paget s not looking to be taken for a ride not on the back of some tattooed roughneck s bike and definitely not in his bed. But when she uncovers evidence supporting Vince s suspicions of murder, Kim must entrust her safety to a man whose body threatens danger of a whole different kind. N° de réf. du libraire AAS9780451471260

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Description du livre Signet Book, United States, 2014. Paperback. État : New. 170 x 106 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. First in the exciting new Desert Dog series, starring hot and sexy bikers in the Southwest. Backbreaking days, wild nights, and the hard hum of steel between your thighs. That s a life well lived, according to the Desert Dogs four friends who call Fortuity, Nevada, their badlands home. Vince Grossier is the self-crowned outlaw king around here. But when Fortuity s slick new mayor invites a casino development to town, greed isn t far behind and it claims Vince s good friend as its first casualty. With the law turning a blind eye to the mysterious death, Vince must seek his own brand of justice. The pretty photographer hired by the developers might be the key to uncovering the truth. And she s a temptation too good to pass up. Finally free of a controlling ex, Kim Paget s not looking to be taken for a ride not on the back of some tattooed roughneck s bike and definitely not in his bed. But when she uncovers evidence supporting Vince s suspicions of murder, Kim must entrust her safety to a man whose body threatens danger of a whole different kind. N° de réf. du libraire AAS9780451471260

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