Code of Honor
Book 8 of the Honor series
Loren rolled on the throttle on the straightaway and the speedometer slid to sixty. The crisp night air sliced at her throat and froze the breath streaming through her nostrils. Her skin tingled. Adrenaline surged through her bloodstream. The macadam unraveled beneath her headlights like a silver ribbon swirling through dark chocolate, a seductive tease urging her to indulge in private pleasures. One mistake, one miscalculation, and the big bike would careen off the twisting road into the dense, dark forest. Loren laughed into the wind—she never felt more alive than when in danger.
A faint vibration against her left thigh signaled a call on the cell phone tucked into an inside pocket of her leathers. Whoever was calling wasn’t one of the Renegades. No one from the club would be calling her in the middle of a run. She’d spent two and a half years working her way up the club hierarchy, from prospect to voting member, but she was still a lieutenant. If the club president wanted to call off the run or change the orders, he’d be calling Quincy, his VP, not her. And Ramsey sure as hell would not be calling her on the burn phone he didn’t even know about.
She put the call out of her mind and held the throttle steady. She was finally getting close to her objective, and everything else could wait—especially a sit rep to keep the bureaucrats happy. The big Harley purred contentedly between her thighs. The highway curved north into the Bitterroots, and at 2330 on a frigid December night, the roads were deserted. She liked riding at night, even in winter, but night maneuvers were always trickier. The three of them were out there alone, miles from any backup, about to meet with a bunch of fanatics who would outnumber and outgun them. Loose cannons with short fuses.
The uninformed often lumped paramilitary organizations and motorcycle clubs into the same anarchistic pot, pegging them all as rebels and outlaws who lived on the fringes of society, ignoring law and order, threatening the status quo. In some ways the comparison was true—both groups eschewed laws imposed by a government they didn’t recognize and guarded their territory with guns and blood. Internally, though, the groups were fundamentally different. Within the club, absolute loyalty was a given. No one betrayed the club, no one turned on a brother or sister, no one indicted a fellow club member. Self-sacrifice for the good of the whole was ingrained.
The militia was different. The first thing she’d noticed when dealing with right-wing paramilitary groups like the Forces for a Liberated America was the power-hungry competitiveness seething beneath the rigid hierarchy. The general might command obedience through force, but the internal cohesion that made a family out of the club was missing in the compound. Somewhere she’d find someone willing to deal for money or power, and those internal chinks in the militia’s armor were exactly what she needed to get inside.
Ahead of her, Quincy’s taillight blinked and he slowed. Loren throttled back, falling into single file between him and Armeo, who rode rearguard. They turned off the main road onto a packed gravel single-lane, slick with ice from a recent flurry. Her rear tire skidded on the glassy surface, and she put down a leg to help stabilize the Harley as it fishtailed back into line. The surge of adrenaline left her momentarily high. She loved the freedom of knifing through the dark unencumbered by metal and glass barriers, despite the risk. She didn’t fear death, only a life of no consequence.
She pulled up behind Quincy in a semicircular turnoff and cut the engine, kicking the stand down as she dismounted. Two Humvees idled at the far end of the turnoff, their exhaust streaming into the frigid air like breath from some prehistoric monsters. During the tourist season, the area would be crowded with sightseers, but now, in the middle of the night on a road that led nowhere except higher into the nearly deserted mountains, they might have been on a faraway planet. Towering pines crowded up to the road on all sides, dwarfing them in the tiny clearing. The overlook gave way to yawning darkness. She balanced her helmet on the tank and settled her thin black watch cap over her ears. Her short, shaggy hair curled out from under the edges along her neck. Armeo, almost the same height and nearly indistinguishable in black cap, leather pants, jacket, and boots, stepped up beside her.
“I don’t like this,” he muttered.
“Just be cool, but be ready,” she murmured. When Quincy started toward the Humvees, she slid her hand into her right front jacket pocket, gripped her Glock, and fell into step with Quincy.
A clean-shaven man in a flight jacket, fatigues, and paratrooper boots stepped out of the first oversized SUV. Six-three, looking trim even in winter clothes, he was hatless, his dark hair clipped short, making his lantern-jawed face and head appear bullet-like. She hadn’t met him, but she knew his dossier, what there was of it. Augustus Graves—sixty-one, ex–Army Special Forces, ex–land speculator. He’d made a killing in a land deal with developers of a resort community on Bear Lake in the mid-nineties and then dropped out of sight. A decade later, he’d resurfaced as the self-appointed general of FALA, one of the largest and best-organized right-wing paramilitary organizations. He was rumored to have powerful backers on both sides of the law, and Loren’s job was to find out who they were. And just what kind of security risk FALA represented.
Two younger men in similar military garb, each with an assault rifle slung across his chest, climbed out after him and took up positions slightly behind and off to his sides. The two triads approached steadily but cautiously, reaching at exactly the same time the center of the cone of light thrown off by the Humvees.
“I see the weather didn’t slow you down,” Graves said, his voice a gravelly baritone. His arms rested loosely at his sides. He didn’t offer to shake Quincy’s hand.
Quincy shrugged, his leathers creaking in the frigid air. “Not much slows us down.”
Graves smiled thinly, his pale blue eyes scanning Loren and Armeo. Nothing registered in his expression, but his gaze lingered a moment longer on Loren than Armeo. She stared back, unblinking. After a second, he switched his attention back to Quincy. “Have you got the samples?”
“Right this way.”
Loren took a step back, Armeo followed, and Quincy waited until Graves stepped up beside him. The two men strode toward the bikes in tandem, and she and Armeo kept them and the FALA guards in sight as they followed. When the group reached the bikes, Loren moved to hers and unstrapped the bedroll from the back. She rested it on the broad seat of the Harley and, under the light of the moon, unrolled the blanket to expose a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Quincy and Armeo did the same, exposing semi-automatic handguns and submachine guns.
One of the younger men with Graves whistled under his breath. The other one said, “Pretty.”
Graves extended a hand toward the rifle resting on Loren’s seat. “May I?”
“Be my guest,” Loren said, easing her hand back into her jacket. She didn’t expect any trouble at this juncture—a double-cross was more likely to occur when they transferred the full shipment—but she wanted to even the odds, just in case.
Graves hefted the rifle, worked the slide, and looked through the attached night scope. His expression didn’t change. “How many can you get?”
Loren didn’t answer, even though she had the arms connection. Club rules. Quincy was in charge. He said, “As many as you can handle.”
“Fifteen hundred for the big guns, eight hundred for the handguns.”
Graves looked through the scope again. “A thousand and five hundred.”
Quincy was silent for a moment, then one quick nod. “Agreed.”
“Let’s start with a hundred of each.”
“No problem,” Quincy said, like they moved a few hundred thousand dollars’ worth of illegal guns every day. That was a big order, bigger than any Loren had witnessed. Wherever these guys were getting their money, it was someone with clout. And what were they going to do with a hundred assault rifles? Start World War III? But she kept her expression neutral and took the opportunity to get a good look at each of the three men, committing their features to memory. Her memory was eidetic—she never forgot a detail of a conversation, could sketch the exact specifics of a face, and was able to accurately pinpoint her location without GPS to within a few hundred feet, even after an hour’s ride. Those traits, her genetic inheritance from her mathematician mother and artist father, made her the best at what she did.
“Then we’re done here.” The general glanced at Loren. “Merry Christmas.”
Loren stared back. Ho-fucking-ho. She hadn’t even remembered they’d scheduled the meet for Christmas night. It wasn’t as if she’d been planning to spend the night cozied up in front of a fire with anyone. Like there could even be someone—at least anyone she could risk seeing for more than a quick tumble in the back room of the club. She did have to prove she was one of the guys, after all. She looked at Graves until his smile grew predatory and he finally turned away.
Quincy and Graves traded a few more comments about when and where the exchange would occur, while she and Armeo wrapped up the merchandise and secured the bedrolls back on their bikes. Five minutes later, they saddled up and turned around for the two-hour ride back down the mountain to Silver Lake, the home base of the Bitterroot Renegades. Her home, for the last two and half years. The burn phone vibrated against her leg again. A call from Skylar Dunbar, the only person with the number, could only mean trouble.