Hardman - Delilah Devlin

Chapter 1

“His GPS is pinging just ahead,” Martika Mills said, raising her gaze from her handheld tracking device to point ahead toward the bend in the river.

Pierce Hardman took his attention off scanning the banks and slowed their boat in the center of the shallow river. They’d need to gear up before approaching their target, Matthew Harper, who’d skipped his date with the judge the previous week. The once-convicted felon had been set to appear on charges stemming from a string of home burglaries. Just another dumbass who thought the rules didn’t apply to him and didn’t want to work for his money.

“Finally, it’s cold as shit on this water,” Preacher’s voice came over the comms. He was in the jon boat behind Hardman and Marti’s little two-seater sneak boat and was accompanied by Dagger and Lacey. They hadn’t really needed so many hunters for this takedown, but since healthy bounties had been a bit scarce the last few weeks, and everyone was bored, they’d decided to move on Harper together.

When they’d planned this river grab, they hadn’t taken into account maneuvering on the chilly water. They wore shorts with sweatshirts or hoodies on top. Nothing other than the thin padding atop Hardman’s aluminum seat kept his balls from freezing.

He twisted the handle on the outboard motor to put it into neutral, slowing the boat further. While the boat drifted, he and Marti removed their life vests and donned the gear they’d brought in a duffle—their Kevlar vests, their badges, and lastly, they strapped holstered weapons to their thighs.

“We look ridiculous,” Lacey said with a laugh. “Who wears shorts and boat shoes to a takedown?”

Marti rolled her eyes. Hardman smirked. Lacey could always be counted on for fashion commentary. The curvy blonde was the only hunter sporting pink and grey camouflaged attire.

“Hardman, you got our new toy?” Preacher asked.

Hardman bent to the duffle and removed the new “Spiderman” bolo gun, which he clipped to his vest. “Got it.”

“Has he moved?” Dagger asked.

Again, Marti bent to look at the tracker. “Nope. He’s sitting still.”

Hardman hoped that meant he was busy fishing.

“Hope he didn’t ditch the ankle monitor,” Marti mumbled. “Or we rented these boats for nothing.”

“We ready?” Dagger asked.

“We’re a go,” Hardman said and twisted the outboard motor’s handle again to move slowly toward the bend.

As they rounded the curve, they spotted a small boat beached against a steep bank, a rope tied around a fallen tree to keep it there, but no sign of Harper.

Hardman aimed the boat at the bank, gave the motor a bit of juice then set it into neutral. They drifted into the bank, and he jumped off the side into shallow water. “You stay with the boat,” he said to Marti. “We don’t need it floating away.”

“Why do you get all the fun?” she asked, her eyebrows lowering.

“Because I was in the water first,” he said, grinning.

Dagger slid his boat beside the sneaker boat and tossed his mooring line to Marti. “Make sure it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Marti’s glower darkened.

Hardman chuckled as he climbed the bank, glancing around to look for any signs of where their quarry might have gone.

“He’s pinging from up there,” Marti said in a hushed tone from below. When he glanced back, she was pointing toward the top of the steep bank. “Maybe twenty feet in.” She held up the tracker. “Sure you don’t need me?”

“We’ll manage,” he said. “Just give us a shout if he moves.”

Hardman reached for branches, knotty roots, and grass to pull himself up the bank.

Beside him, Dagger pushed on Lacey’s butt to get her up the side, and Preacher dug his toes into loose dirt to “step” his way up. Once they all stood on the top of the embankment, they spread out to commence their search. As well, they didn’t need to be bunched together since they didn’t know for sure whether Harper was armed. Not that his file indicated he was dangerous, but a cornered dog might bite.

Hardman studied the ground and brush around him, looking for tracks.

“Got him,” Dagger said quietly.

Hardman glanced his way. Dagger pointed to footprints and touched a broken branch. Signaling that he’d take point, he aimed a glare at Lacey, who frowned but let Hardman and Preacher trail behind him before falling in at the end of the line.

They went maybe fifteen feet into the brush when Dagger squatted and held up a closed fist. They all took a knee. Dagger pointed at his eyes then raised two fingers. Harper had

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