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Authors: Matt Hilton

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Slash and Burn

BOOK: Slash and Burn
11.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Slash and Burn



Matt Hilton


Also by Matt Hilton


Dead Men’s Dust

Judgement and Wrath

About the Author


Matt Hilton worked for twenty-two years in private security and the police force in Cumbria. He is a 4th Dan blackbelt and coach in Ju-Jitsu. He lives in Cumbria with his wife and son.

First published in Great Britain in 2010 by Hodder & Stoughton

An Hachette UK company


Copyright © Matt Hilton 2010


The right of Matt Hilton to be identified as the Author of the Work has been

asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted,

in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise

circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published

and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library


Epub ISBN 97818489499317

Book ISBN 9780340978276


Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

338 Euston Road

London NW1 3BH

To Jacky and Val Hilton.

The best parents ever.


It was the worst year of her life.

She stumbled and fell, her shoulder ramming the bole of a tree, scraping her skin raw beneath her shirt. She cried out, but instantly clamped her teeth down on her lip to stop the sound travelling through the forest. She scrambled up and fled again, her breath catching in her throat. She wanted to howl in terror, but there was only one thing racing through her mind: Get away. Get away now.

She had to run. Leave everything behind. Everything.

But she couldn’t do that. There was one thing that she had to keep safe. The only thing that would help her end the
worst year of her life

It had been a bad, bad year.

Her husband walked out on her in the spring and took up with a girl half his age. Summer was earmarked by the acrimonious divorce. By the time fall came round, Imogen Ballard didn’t think things could get any worse.

But then came winter.

And now men were trying to kill her.

Already, blood had been spilled. Not hers, but that simple truth was the only chink of light piercing the nightmare she’d found herself in. How long would that stay true when the men hunting her through the forest did so armed with rifles and automatic handguns? Sooner or later they would catch up with her, and then there’d be a lot more blood.

She had to run. Hide. Stay away from those hunting her with the tenacity of bloodhounds. She was at home in the woods, but she was no Lady Rambo. She didn’t know if she was capable of giving them the slip, and she certainly wasn’t able to fight back. Not armed as she was with nothing but a digital video camera.

She was thirty-eight years old. Not as fit as ten years ago when she was regularly competing in triathlons, but still lithe and strong. The problem was, the shock of what she’d witnessed had robbed her of much of the stamina she required to maintain her lead. The hunters were gaining.

As if to remind her, a bullet shrieked by like an angry wasp, cutting a chunk from a tree on her right.

Imogen ducked in reflex. Too late to have saved her if the bullet was on target, of course, but she couldn’t stop the instinctive movement. Then she was pushing on, her boots driving through mounds of moss and twigs as she clambered over a fallen tree. Another bullet streaked past, galvanising her to push even harder.

Shouts from the men chasing her. Maniacal laughter taunting her. Another gun barked, punching the ground in front of her feet. Imogen turned down a narrow trail. The men were toying with her, enjoying her terror; that was the only reason why their bullets hadn’t found her yet.

From somewhere ahead she heard a faint rumble. Her first thought was that they had called in some kind of armoured vehicle as back-up, that even now some great cannon was vectoring in to blow her to smithereens. But that thought was sheer madness. The rumble was from Great Wells, the waterfall she’d earlier scaled on her way up the hillside.

She considered running directly to the falls and throwing herself headlong to the mercy of the white water. But the falls were one hundred and fifty feet of steep cliffs. At the bottom waited not a nice deep pool, but a series of potholes set in jagged rocks. The falls offered no means of escape. In fact, they blocked her way more effectively than an electrified fence would.

She spun from the path, hurdling another fallen tree, and crashing through the lower branches of pines that grew from the steep hillside. Her only way out of here was by an unfamiliar route to her. All she could do was run, and hope that the men gave up before her flagging stamina did.

But she didn’t think they would.

Chapter 1

‘My sister may very well be dead.’

‘Don’t see how I can help you, then. I’m sorry.’

‘But then again, she might not be.’

It was one of those surreal conversations that you find yourself striking up with a stranger, and wondering where the hell it was leading to. I’d been taking a cold Corona on the deck of the beach house I had rented on the Florida Gulf Coast to the east of Pensacola. The woman approached me along the curve of the beach. She was walking with the devil-may-care attitude of the tourists who often walked the beach, picking up shells or water-smoothed stones and marvelling at the glory of nature. I noticed her for two reasons. She was obviously beautiful: tall for a woman and willowy of frame. She had the slim hips and broad shoulders I associated with swimmers, but she walked with a ballerina’s grace. She had short dark hair and equally dark eyes; kind of Paris chic, I thought. But what struck me most – and the second reason I noticed her – was the way she called out to me like I was an old friend.

‘Joe Hunter?’ she said, waving a hand. ‘Is that you?’

I was unprepared for visitors. My hair was mussed, I was unshaven. Worse, I was stripped to the waist, dressed only in a pair of cut-off denim shorts that were frayed along the hem. My face, neck and forearms were tanned by Florida sunshine, but my upper body still had the pallor of one not long since in northern England. Since my arrival in the US I hadn’t had too much spare time on my hands; none of it spent idling in the sun. My couple of minutes on the sundeck had been an attempt at balancing the deficit.

Putting down my bottle of beer, I wiped droplets from my chin. Before answering the woman, I discreetly surveyed the beach in each direction. My first thought was, Who is she? My second, more importantly, Who is with her? In my line of work, it was important that I know those kinds of things. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss; a pretty woman calling my name could easily do the same to me.

But there were no enemies lurking.

She came towards me, her bare feet kicking up golden sand. I saw that a pair of sandals, slung from a loop of her shorts, bumped against a shapely thigh.

Joe Hunter?’ she asked, still ten paces out.

I looked around for my shirt, but made do with folding my forearms over my chest. My arms covered the unsightly scar next to my heart, but that was about all. Good job that I’d kept up a strict exercise regime; at least the rest of my body wasn’t ugly too.

Her eyes alighted on the tattoo on my shoulder, and it was as if that one symbol confirmed my identity. Not so many people knew about the tattoo, even fewer people wore one like it. There was me and my best friend Rink. Half a dozen others who’d been in the same Special Forces team. Everyone else was dead.

‘I feel at a disadvantage here,’ I said. ‘You seem to know who I am, but . . .’

‘I’m Kate Piers,’ she said, advancing to the deck and looking up at me. ‘You knew my brother.’

Something in her features did ring a bell. Jake Piers was a tough, wiry son-of-a-bitch who came to our team from the Navy Seals. I was there with him when we took down a terrorist training camp in Libya, and carried him back from the raid across my shoulders after he was shredded by machine-gun fire. Jake died in my arms. He wouldn’t have survived his wounds. He was shredded, his internal organs torn up. But I wasn’t going to leave him behind. There was no way I was about to allow his corpse to be paraded on TV as a sign of victory for the terrorists. I carried him out of there even though it meant slowing down the extraction of my team.

‘You’re Jake’s sister?’ How could she be as pretty when Jake had been such a pug to look at?

of his sisters,’ she corrected me. ‘I have an older sister called Imogen.’

Wondering where all this was leading, I waved her up on to the deck and offered her a Corona.

She took the beer but declined a glass, drinking directly from the bottle. I watched a bead of amber liquid trace a line down her neck where it shivered momentarily before she wiped it away. She caught me looking and laughed.

‘I bet you’re wondering what I’m doing here?’

Leaning against the railing so that the sun was on my back, I ran a hand over my unkempt hair. ‘Wasn’t expecting visitors.’

Her eyes crinkled. She took in my beach house with a sweep of her arm. ‘It’s beautiful here. But lonely, I guess. Do you live out here all alone?’

‘Only the last few days. That’s why I’m surprised you found me.’

surprised. There were only two people who knew I had moved into the house, and neither of them was the type to give up my location without a fight. My buddy and business partner, Jared ‘Rink’ Rington, and Harvey Lucas, another friend out in Little Rock, Arkansas.

‘You didn’t get the voicemail messages Jared sent you?’

I thought about the mobile phone lying somewhere inside the house. I’d slung it aside my first night in my new home. I’d come here for some R and R: why would I want to be disturbed by phone calls? The battery would probably be dead by now.

‘Rink sent you?’ It was unlike him. Normally he would have paved the way first. But then I looked at Kate and decided that Rink would see what I saw. Not a threat; just a person in need of help.

‘He’s tied up with a case at the moment, but he said that you would be able to help. I’ve got a problem, Joe. But I knew who to come to. I remembered Jake talking about his friends from his unit. He said that he would trust you all with his life. Even when he died, it was his friends who brought him home. It’s why I looked up Jared instead of going to the police.’

‘And Rink sent you to find me, huh?’

‘Said that he was a little busy, but you’d do as second best.’

I shook my head at that.

‘What else did Rink tell you about me?’

‘Nothing. I already knew from Jake that you were good at your job.’

‘Jake told you what we did?’

‘Not in as many words. But I’m not stupid. I was only thirteen years old when he died, but even I guessed that he was more than just an average soldier. I knew that you were all part of some extra-special unit. It’s because I know about your background that I came looking for you.’

‘If you’re looking for a mercenary, you’ve come to the wrong place,’ I told her. ‘I’m retired. Four and a half years.’

‘Jared said you would help.’

‘Depends what it is you want.’

‘I want you to find my sister.’

‘She’s missing? You
have gone to the cops first.’

BOOK: Slash and Burn
11.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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