Redwood (Linear Tactical #11) by Janie Crouch

1





Lexi needed a mark.

She felt eyes on her as she crossed the lobby of the midrange hotel in the middle of Wyoming, walking toward the bar in the rear. She was used to eyes on her. At one time, her presence here in a hotel she’d never heard of would’ve done more than cause a few stares—it would’ve caused a commotion.

A commotion was the last thing she wanted tonight.

She kept her head down, letting her thick blonde hair cover most of her face. Demure, shy damsel in distress—that was the role she was playing tonight. Someone who needed to be rescued. She might be a good actress, but it didn’t take any theatrical skill to play someone in trouble. All she had to do was be herself.

That was the hardest role to play lately.

She glanced around as she walked, looking for the man she would use to help her out of this mess. Her gut churned at the thought of resorting to this. But she didn’t have any choice.

She couldn’t believe she’d gotten so close to finally escaping the nightmare she’d been living for the past six months only to stall out, literally, in the last few miles.

She couldn’t believe she had no other option besides using someone else, in whatever way she could manage, to get the cash she needed.

She clutched the purse she’d bought at a thrift store a few months ago—a pitiful knockoff of a brand she’d used to own in every size and color—against the black silk dress that hugged her curves. A Carolina Herrera dress also bought at a thrift store, still available because of the rip in the seam she’d repaired herself.

All those years sitting around in wardrobe fittings had rubbed off on her.

She slid onto a barstool at the end of the bar, keeping a look of dejection on her face, and quietly asked the bartender for a glass of water. The clock was now officially ticking.

She’d picked this seat for a reason. Between the location on the corner and the mirror up over the bar, her perch allowed her to see nearly everyone in the facility without it seeming like she was looking.

The bar itself she’d scoped out earlier today when her tire had punctured and she’d ended up at an auto shop a couple blocks away. She liked the bar not only because it was part of a hotel, which meant people wouldn’t be in a hurry to leave, but because the bar had multiple darkened booths in the back. They were set up to view a small stage when there was live music. But tonight they would just provide a little privacy.

Lexi’s stomach turned a little at the thought.

This wasn’t the greatest plan ever. There were a lot of things that could go wrong. But all she needed was a hundred dollars—enough money to get her tire replaced and buy another tank of gas.

She was so close. And she’d spent every last dime, plus more she still owed, getting to this place with an ID in her pocket that said Lexi Johnson. The guy who’d made the ID—and set up the electronic trail connected to it that made sure it would pass a cursory inspection—had assured her that Johnson was a more popular name than Jones or Smith. He’d also advised her to stick with her real first name since she’d be less likely to accidentally answer to the wrong name.

So she’d become Lexi Johnson.

And Lexi Johnson was who she would have to stay if she wanted to remain alive. All she had to do was make it to a small town about an hour from here where there was a job and a tiny apartment waiting for her. Not much, but hopefully, she’d be safe from the hell on her heels.

She nodded at the bartender as he slid the water in front of her. Time to put this not-terribly-brilliant plan into play. Step one: look pitiful. Step two: get someone to approach her. Step three: move the party over to one of those booths and flirt until she was able to get some money from the guy. Maybe by using her nimble fingers to pickpocket. But who knew? She’d seen guys pull out their wallets and hand it over to a woman to go buy a round to impress her with how much money he had.

Of course, those had been millionaires, and showing off a few thousand dollars in cash was nothing to them.

But hopefully, it wouldn’t be too difficult to get the relatively little amount of money she needed. Two hundred at most. Yeah, she’d probably have to kiss some stranger she had no interest in. But she’d kissed a lot of people she’d had no interest in over the years—usually very handsome guys who’d also been some of the biggest jerks on the planet.

She wondered what most of them would say if they could see her now. Stooping so low for a couple hundred dollars. Nobody from her old life had ever tried to reach out to her. Not that she blamed them. Everyone had condemned her for what she’d done.