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Priceless(Rylee Adamson #1)(2) by Shannon Mayer

Maria shook her head and clutched the pictures to her chest.

“She likes tigers. Cats, all kinds of cats.” Don came up behind his wife and placed his hands on her shoulders. “And she loves to braid things, hair, thread, yarn. Even paper.”

I let him talk; let him think he was helping. Maria caught my eye and I shook my head—no need to cut him off at the knees. She gave the briefest of nods, and for a moment I felt a mild connection with the woman, but I immediately pushed it away. I didn’t like getting attached to the parents. I was here for the kid, not them. Besides, the lack of attachment made it easier to be the bearer of bad news, which did happen more often than I liked.

“You have the account number to deposit the down payment?” I already knew the answer.

Maria nodded. “Half now, half when you bring her home.”

Yup, that was me, taking money to find people’s kids; but at least I did that, I was no charlatan taking money for hope and never delivering.

I left them holding onto each other, watching me—their only hope to regain their daughter—walk down the carpeted hallway and step into the stairwell. I didn’t wave, and neither did they.

2

Besides the cool, constantly blowing wind that was North Dakota waiting for me to step outside, there were also two FBI agents. My usual stalker, O’Shea, and what appeared to be another new partner. Imagine that. Considering O’Shea’s lack of people skills, it was no surprise. He went through partners like a woman changes her clothes.

“Adamson.” O’Shea barked at me.

I flinched at the use of my surname, a name I didn’t use anymore. Not since I’d started searching for kids nearly ten years ago.

His partner, a shorter version of O’Shea, I barely noticed. No angry vibes coming off that one. With O’Shea as his partner, I suspected he was taking a regular dose of Adavan just to get through the day. I would be, if I were in his shoes.

“What?” My distant teenage persona came to the surface with the snap back. He really brought out the best in me. He didn’t look like your typical Irishman, with his dark eyes and hair. But his temper fit. Standing at least 6’3, he was one of very few men able to intimidate me. And it wasn’t just his height, or the size of his muscled body, it was the history between us. For ten years he’d been trying to pin murder charges on me, and for ten years I’d stayed free. It rubbed him the wrong way for some reason.

Milly, my closest friend and confidant, long ago suggested I try flirting with him, to freak him out and throw him off his game. Lately I’d been considering it. I’d tried just about everything else and I really just wanted him off my case. Milly insisted it would work, and since she was the sex goddess in our duo, I could probably take her word for it. Problem was I wasn’t sure I could pull it off.

“I know what you’re doing. Stay the hell out of FBI business or I’ll have you up on charges so fast even your ditzy little head will spin,” O’Shea said, using his height to loom over me, like a bully on a playground trying to intimidate the little kids. Wrong chick to pull that move on, you’d think he would have learned that by now.

“Tell me something,” I said, acting totally unimpressed, hiding my nerves. “If this is just a regular case, just a kid gone missing, why is the illustrious FBI on it?” I strolled to my Jeep, the two men following a few feet behind me. “Could it be that unlike most people whose children go missing, this family has money and can buy the really good help?” I looked over my shoulder to see their reactions to my words.

Both agents flushed at the implication. Mini-Me stepped into the ring next, ready for his shot at me. “The FBI can’t be bought, Ms. Adamson.”

“Really?” I smiled at him sweetly, turning to face the men, my hand on the Jeep’s handle. “That’s not what I heard. In fact, I heard when you’ve got lots of money or fame, that’s when the FBI steps in.” I paused, took my hand off the door and shook my head. “Glory hounds seeking the spoils of others’ sorrow.” So much for flirting.

O’Shea stepped close and held my door closed, once more looming over me. I didn’t often feel small, but this close to him I felt like a child. The same child he’d met nearly ten years ago. “Adamson, one of these days I’m going to find out how you did it, how you made your little sister disappear. And when I do, all this vigilante shit of yours will stop because I’ll make sure you’re in jail for a very, very long time. You’re not fooling me. I know who’s to blame for your sister’s death. We may not have a body, but one day soon, you’re going to slip up.”

My jaw tightened and tears threatened to show themselves. I would not let him see me cry, damn it. After all these years, he was the only one who could bring me this close to tears. “And when I do, you’ll be there, right? You’ll be there to slip the noose over my neck and watch me swing?”

He growled an obscenity and suddenly, we were nose to nose; Mini-Me was in the background muttering about people starting to stare.

“You’d think the FBI would like a little help finding kids and returning them to their families,” I said, holding my ground.

“Not when they’re dead!” He hissed at me, hot minty breath flooding my nose. That had been the last kid. I’d found him, but it had been too late. The family was grateful to have closure. The FBI and local police, not so much. It’s a little difficult to explain a werewolf attack to people who have no idea the monsters are real. Of course, there had been other kids that hadn’t made it home alive, but I didn’t tell O’Shea. No need to point out that detail.

“At least I can find them! More than you slackers ever manage,” I snarled back. I hoped my breath smelled bad. Damn, would flirting with this man really work?

“Slackers?” His voice got soft, and I knew I touched a raw spot. I couldn’t help poking some more at it.

“Glorified donut-eating cops. The only difference is you get to dress in Gucci, and the cops have hand-me-down uniforms.”

His eyes nearly bugged out, and he grabbed me by the shoulders. I went limp in his hands. “Assault on an unarmed woman, O’Shea? Now that won’t look good on the old permanent record, will it?”

He didn’t drop his hands, not right away. “Since when do you go anywhere without your blades?” He took his hands off my shoulders and flipped my jacket open; his fingers brushed underneath my br**sts even, sending a shot of awareness through me, the perv. I let him. I certainly wasn’t going to tell him all my weapons were waiting for me in the Jeep. But I had nothing on me at the moment.

Wiping his hands on his pants, as if he’d touched something nasty, he said, “I know what you are, Adamson. You’re a fraud and a child killer.”

I’d had enough of his tirade, enough of the memories he stirred up. I leaned forward until we were nose to nose again, and gave him the eye contact I knew most people couldn’t handle. It was time to put Milly’s suggestion to the test. When you have chocolate eyes laced with gold and emerald green, it either freaks people out or turns them on. I was banking on them freaking him out.

“You know what I think, Agent O’Shea?” He blinked at me and I took advantage of the proximity of his lips. I planted a big fat kiss on him, slipping my tongue through his teeth and flicking it along the roof of his mouth. He didn’t fight me, and for a split second his lips softened on mine, the taste of mint lingering on my tongue as I pulled away from him. O’Shea swayed, and then scrambled away from me, dark eyes wide. His hand went to his gun.

“I think you just like to follow me around so you can watch my nice tight ass wiggle. You’ve been watching it for nearly ten years, haven’t you?” I blew a kiss at Mini-Me and hopped into my Jeep.

The kiss did what nothing else could have, what nothing in ten years had managed. It shut him up. I’d be buggered, Milly was right! I left from our encounter whistling a tune, a smile on my lips.

“Slackers,” O’Shea shouted, and then muttered under his breath when Martins, his new partner, scuttled away to his desk with wide eyes. O’Shea knew he was the talk of the office, knew the other Agents looked sideways at him for taking this obsession with Adamson to a whole new level. Ten years he’d followed her, ten years he’d learned her habits, her training, even her taste in food. All so he could drag her down. He didn’t care what the other agents thought, never had, but knew it made life just that much more difficult when it came to getting the higher ups to agree to requisitions. Taking slow breaths, O’Shea calmed himself, not wanting to admit the true reason for his anger.

That kiss had set him on fire. He could still feel it, the pressure of her lips, the dainty flick of her tongue over his. He let out a groan and slid into his chair. The worst thing possible for any officer of the law was to get hung up on a suspect, and that’s what Adamson was, a suspect. It didn’t matter that the case was cold. It didn’t matter that there was literally no proof she’d killed her sister; he had a gut feeling something was off about her, and he was sticking with his instincts.

“Hey, partner.”

O’Shea lifted his eyes to see Martins fiddling with his tie, nerves coming through with every twitch of his fingers. “I was thinking, maybe we should tail her. See where she goes.”

Shaking his head, O’Shea pointed to a tracking device on his desk that blinked a muted red. “I’ve already tagged her Jeep. Goes on the fritz now and again, but we can follow her anywhere. If it’s working.”

Martins lit up like a freaking Christmas tree. “Awesome, let’s go then.”

God, O’Shea hated the young ones. Had he ever been that ridiculously eager? Like a dog just waiting to be set on a bird?

The last thing O’Shea wanted was to see Adamson again. Auburn hair, gold, green and chocolate eyes that could skewer a man at ten paces, not to mention a body lean and hard from the rigorous regime she followed. He could still feel the brush of his hand under her breast, and he clenched his fingers to fight off the sensation.