Today's Reading

A minute later a pickup and an SUV rolled into the clearing and parked beside Luke's Jeep Cherokee. He stepped out of the shadows as a lanky man climbed out of the truck holding an LED lantern. Luke would bet his next paycheck the floral Hawaiian shirt Sonny wore hid a gun tucked in the waistband.

"Hey, my man," Sonny said. The dealer glanced around. "This place gives me the willies at night."

Luke shrugged. "You picked it."

"I know, but it's still creepy."

"You're late," he said.

"My friends over here had a little business to take care of. I was about to call you when they showed up."

Sonny was twitchy. And he was talking too much. Luke tensed, shifting his stance to the balls of his feet as the driver climbed from the SUV. The overhead lights gave just enough illumination to make out the man's features.

The sixth sense honed by years of drug buys kicked in. It was hard to tell his age, but something about the cut of his shoulders and the way he held himself was familiar. Luke had seen him somewhere, maybe even had contact with him, but his photo hadn't been in any of Luke's files. What if he'd arrested him before in a drug sting?

Luke's gaze shifted as another man crawled out from the passenger side. Charley Romero purported to be second in command in an organization that had ties with a South American cartel and stretched from Natchez to New Orleans and eastward into Florida.

Romero was shorter than his bodyguard and might come to Luke's shoulders. But looks were deceiving, and he knew to treat him like the cottonmouth snakes roaming the woods around him. Very carefully.

He looked closer at the bodyguard, still trying to place him. That was the problem he always faced when he dealt with unknowns. The man could be someone Luke had busted in the past, even in a different part of the country.

"Wasn't expecting but two of you." He caught himself before he reached to smooth the full beard that was no longer there. Since he was playing himself, it wasn't needed, but he sure did miss it, along with the John Deere cap that always shaded his eyes.

"Romero here wanted his friend to tag along," Sonny said, palming his hands. "It's all good."

"Your friend in the shadows. He have a name?" The hard metal of his Glock pressed against the small of Luke's back, reminding him it was a dangerous game he played.

"Yeah," Romero said, "but you don't need to know it."

Tension crackled in the humid air. The bodyguard moved out of the shadows to join Romero, and Luke planted his feet. The bodyguard stood a good two inches taller than Luke's six feet. He inched his arm back, ready to grab the Glock in his waistband. Not much room for error. If the deal went south, he'd take out Romero first, then the bodyguard. He nodded to Sonny. "I'm only trusting them because you say they're okay."

Romero folded his arms across his chest. "How do we know you're not a narc?" His voice rose and fell in its thick Cajun accent.

"Hey, Charley, my man," Sonny said. "Luke here is okay. I know him."

Luke squared his shoulders and kept his gaze on Romero. "How do I know you won't rat me out to the law around here?"

A look passed between the bodyguard and Romero, who grinned. "You don't have to worry about the law." Romero stared at Luke a minute longer, and then he tipped his head. "I heard you're looking for some Big H."

A little of the tension eased from Luke's body. "And I heard you had some."

"Maybe. How much you want?"

"A kilo, right?" Sonny said, looking toward Luke.

"Provided the price is right."

"A kilo will cost you sixty- five Gs," Romero said.

Luke toed the ground with his ostrich- skin cowboy boots and then raised his head to pin a narrowed gaze on Romero. "Sonny said it was only sixty."

"Sonny was wrong. You want it or not?"

Luke took his time answering and shifted where he could keep his eye on the bodyguard. He didn't like the way the man had tilted his head, like he was trying to puzzle something out. Luke needed to end this and get out of here. He brought his attention back to Romero. "Can you make regular deliveries?"

"How regular?"

"Every two weeks?"

"You want a kilo every two weeks?" Romero's voice inched up a notch at the end.

This excerpt ends on page 20 of the paperback edition.

Monday we begin the book The Lost Lieutenant by Erica Vetsch.

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