“Winter wonderland, my ass,” Garrett said aloud as he trudged up the hill, dressed in white from his head to his toes. He blended easily with the fresh snow, so he should really be happier about it, but cold just wasn’t his thing. It wasn’t that Vegas couldn’t get cold in the winter. Those desert storms could make a man’s balls feel like frozen meatballs. But it was still not the same as winter in Massachusetts. He was anxious to finish this job for Dax and get back home. He’d been in the middle of wrapping up his business when Dax called.
Garrett had five sealed letters in the saddlebags of his bike, but for some reason he’d been carrying the sixth one around in his pocket. Maybe it was because that was the most important one. That was the one that explained to his little girl why she would be better off in a world where he didn’t exist. One last kill…one more sin to add to the list of many, and then he’d be ready to stand up and answer for them all, in front of his maker. If his mother was right with the stories she told him when he was little, and there was a set of pearly gates and a little man named Joseph who sent you up the escalator or down into the heat, he knew where he was going, and it was good that he’d rather be warm. His life hadn’t been all bad, and his sweet little Jessie was proof of that, but he had done unspeakable things and answering for them was the only part of dying that worried him.
Right now, though, he needed to put that on the back burner and concentrate on the task at hand. He kept walking, climbing steadily, and each one of his steps left an indentation in the virgin white powder that covered the earth. He was a big man, weighing in at 310 pounds the last time he checked. That number might be worrisome if he weren’t six-foot-six and the weight weren’t evenly distributed and almost solid muscle. Of course, even if it were fat, it wouldn’t matter now.
The higher Garrett climbed, the more frigid the air became. His face was covered with a white knit ski mask, but the skin around his eyes stung from the ice that was clinging to his bottom lashes. He should be wearing his goggles, but he hated walking around in them. He’d put them on when he reached his rendezvous point. His thick, white leather gloves were heated at least, and they felt fucking fabulous. His hands were the most important tool he had besides his rifle, so he had to take care of them, but the rest of his body was fucking freezing. The thick, white coveralls he was wearing were saturated with the wet, falling snow and if he thought he was ever going to need it again, he might have worried that his dick would freeze solid and crack right off.
He pushed on. He’d worked in a lot of worse places under a lot of worse conditions. He slowly maneuvered a path that was littered with hidden bushes, stumps, and rocks, but by now he knew where every one of them was at even though the snow had blanketed them all during the night. The branches of the trees that were still visible hung heavily toward the ground, the icicles tugging at them and dangling perilously close to Garrett’s head at times. He walked the obstacle course in snow up to his knees, and it took twice as long as it would have taken in clear weather. It was easy to see why Dax hadn’t tried to take on this job himself, and despite putting his own urgent business aside to do it, Garrett didn’t really mind. This was the one thing in his life that he’d been good at. He was sure it wouldn’t be the thing that got him into heaven, but once he took his own life, that probably wasn’t going to be an option anyways.
When he finally scaled the top of the snowy ridge, he dropped the heavy rifle that had been slung over his shoulder and the backpack he carried, down into the snow, and let his heavy body fall beside them. He lay there in the snow for several minutes, creating a snow angel the size of a dragon before he finally sat up and grabbed his water bottle. As he drank, he looked in the direction of the curling smoke. He couldn’t see the cabin with his naked eye, but he’d already scoped the place out, and he knew Josiah Miller’s routines.
He reached over and unzipped the protective case the rifle was sheathed in. He pulled it out and began his safety checks. The rifle was like an old friend to him. It had taken countless lives…but it had saved countless more. He worked as part of a team in the military, with a spotter, but the truth was that he preferred to work alone. It was the same with most of the rest of his life. He preferred solitude, and he didn’t have very many close relationships. It was why he’d chosen to be a nomad, why he hadn’t seen or talked to his mother in three years, and why he knew he’d be a terrible father to his beautiful little girl—at least, it was one of the reasons. He sighed and began pulling things out of the backpack and setting up his area.
Garrett had studied aerial maps of the place before even going up the mountain for the first time. He’d looked at photographs and satellite pictures, and the first time he went up, he took photos of his own from every angle. He walked the perimeter until he found the perfect spot to stage his kill and then he’d established his own escape route. Then for the next few days he watched Josiah Miller come in and out of the cabin and he got familiar with his target’s routines. Now, he lay down in the snow, ranged the target, and adjusted the position of the gun for the wind and elevation and other variables.
Garrett didn’t like to think of himself as a killer, but he had to admit that was what he was. While he was in the Navy, he could justify what he did by telling himself it was only a job, and one that was saving humanity at that. But once he got out and his job had morphed into traveling the United States for the MC and doing almost exactly the same thing, he wasn’t able to justify it that way any longer. He kept doing it, because it was all he was good at…and he took jobs like this one for Dax because, well, there were just some people you didn’t say no to. Garrett had known Dax for so long that he knew Dax wouldn’t have faulted him for turning the job down, but Dax had been one of very few constants in Garrett’s life. Dax wasn’t frightened or fazed by the changes in Garrett’s personality when he was gone, and he was also one of a handful of people that Garrett knew would be there, saddled up and ready to ride or die, if he needed him. So, he wasn’t about to tell Dax no, even if the job did get in the way of his own plans, temporarily.
Garrett took the high-powered binoculars out of his backpack and while he sat with his back against a tree, he brought them up to his face. He adjusted them until the cabin came into focus. There were no signs of life outside, but the smoke from the chimney told him Miller was inside. It was almost time for him to rise and drink his coffee on the porch. It was what he did every day. Garrett marveled sometimes at how people were such creatures of habit. It was what had gotten a lot of them killed, and they probably didn’t even know it. Garrett had the opportunity to take Miller out many times over that week that he’d been watching him, but he had to wait until everything was in place.
This man had taken Dax’s old lady with the intention of doing her great harm. Even to a killer like Garrett, that was not okay. Miller thought he was paying Dax back for ending his old man’s miserable, hateful existence. He couldn’t see that Dax had done the world a great favor. Dax had also saved Cody and his older brother from continuing to suffer the horrors of abuse the man heaped upon them, but Josiah Miller either didn’t know or didn’t care about any of that. From what Dax told Garrett about what he’d been able to find out about Josiah’s past, the old man hadn’t been any easier on him. But the kid had watched Dax kill him, and then he had spent eighteen years locked up. He was a kid when he went to prison, and according to the prison psychologist’s notes that Dax had somehow gotten his hands on, Josiah had created a fantasy parent in his head. He’d managed to block out the broken bones that could still be seen on an x-ray. When the psychologist asked him about the knife and burn scars on his back, he’d blamed them on his mother and her “string of men.” If not for the fact that Cody had almost identical scarring on his own back, that might be believable.
Josiah had allowed his hate for Dax, Cody, and the Skulls to fester for all the years he was locked up and he’d come out mean, vengeful, and dangerous. The only way Dax could rest easy and know that his family was safe was if this man was no longer on the planet, and Garrett was okay with that. But Josiah had found a place where Dax and his crew would never be able to take their bikes to get at him, so Garrett had made a promise to Dax that before he took him out, Josiah would know who was behind the bullet. He’d set that up last night and now all he had to do was wait.
He lowered the binoculars and, with some effort, got his big hand into the pocket on the front of the coveralls. The photo he put there was hard from the cold. If he bent it in half, it would probably break. He smiled as he looked at Jessie’s little face. His daughter looked like an angel, and Garrett still marveled at how he could be any part of her. Jessie had just turned four years old. She had blonde hair and big, round brown eyes. Her eyelashes were longer than any Garrett had ever seen and all she had to do was bat them in his direction to get anything she ever wanted. She had the softest skin. Garrett had touched many women, and he loved the feel of a woman’s soft skin against his calloused fingers. But Jessie’s was even softer…it was so new. Everything about her was new, and that was a big reason why he had finally decided she’d be better off without him.
Garrett was home on leave when he met Leanne. She was the cousin of one of his brothers in the Sin City Flames and she was home from college at the same time. Garrett met her at a party at the club and by the end of the night he’d taken her back to his place. They’d spent the rest of the weekend in bed, and in the shower and on his couch and even once up against the wall in the garage where he kept his bike. She was hot, and they both consumed a lot of alcohol that weekend. A few times he remembered using a condom, but a few more times they’d gotten caught up in the heat of the moment and they hadn’t.
It was Garrett’s club brother, Leanne’s cousin, who had written to him and told him about the baby. He was in Niger at the time and the letter took months to reach him. By the time he got it, the baby was four months old and Leanne had met someone. By the time Garrett made it home again on leave, Jessie was almost a year old and Leanne was planning a wedding. The man she was marrying wasn’t in the club. He had some professional job and a big house and a nice car. He was well-groomed and educated and articulate and worlds apart from who and what Garrett was. But when Leanne asked Garrett to sign papers giving up his rights to the baby, he had flatly refused. He knew as soon as he saw her that she was his. It was some kind of unspoken bond as soon as his eyes met his daughter’s eyes. They were his eyes, and although everything else about her was her mother, he recognized the same eyes he saw in the mirror every day, looking back at him through his baby. He’d never loved anything or anyone at first sight before, but Jessie’s smile was seared into his soul, the first time she pointed it in his direction. He’d gone to his platoon leader and they’d arranged for a DNA test that proved Garrett was her father.
She was almost two by the time Garrett came home again and they met in court with their lawyers. Garrett was having second thoughts about staying in the little girl’s life until he saw her again. Most kids were afraid of him. He was like Goliath to their David, and he didn’t blame them. But Jessie had seen him that day and once again she’d smiled and stretched out her tiny little arms. Leanne cried when she saw him pick her up, and the man Leanne married had been the one to suggest they call the hearing off and share custody of the baby.
Garrett had to go back for almost another year after that and when he came home again and visited the toddler, things between them were still just as good. The difference was Garrett. He was plagued by nightmares and flashbacks. He refused to take the medication the army gave him. He’d be damned if he’d walk around drooling like a fucking zombie. He self-medicated with weed and alcohol, and sex. His life was an endless party while he was awake and a house of horrors while he slept. The only thing that brought him peace was Jessie. He was selfish enough at first to revel in that and visit her as often as Leanne would let him.
But it had only taken him a few months of visits to realize she had the kind of life he’d never be able to give her. She had a huge room and it seemed to have everything in it that any little girl could ever want or need. He would sit on the floor for hours sometimes while she introduced him to her dolls and stuffed animals and fixed them all tea with a china tea set he was afraid to touch. Or they’d sit in the backyard of the house that looked like a park. It had rolling hills and a play set unlike any Garrett had ever seen. Jessie was always smiling and she talked nonstop to him about her friends at preschool and her mommy and Jake. Jake was her stepfather, the one that worked every day to give her everything she had, everything she wanted, and everything Garrett knew she deserved. It didn’t take him long to realize that the longer he stayed in her life, the more she’d come to know that her real father was the man who tucked her in every night and told her a story…not the funny giant who just came to visit and didn’t have anything of value to offer her.
The day Garrett had that realization was the day he started planning his own death. He would have gone through with it by now, but the letters had taken him weeks to write. He wanted the people he cared about, and most importantly Jessie, to know that leaving them was a necessity, not a choice. He wanted Jessie to know how much he loved her and he needed her to know that the only thing that would ever take him from her was the knowledge that she was going to be so much better off without him. She might forget him eventually, and her mother might choose to not even give her the letter, but his soul wouldn’t have been able to rest if he hadn’t tried to explain it to her. Garrett wasn’t a talker and when he did talk, he wasn’t articulate like Jake. He’d spent hours on spell-checking the letter alone. He didn’t want his little girl to think she’d come from a man without a brain. He wasn’t stupid, but even as a kid, school had not been his thing.
Once he finally finished her letter, he’d written the rest of them, slipped them into envelopes, and was gathering what he needed for his final trip. That was when Dax called and now instead of resting in a box, he was freezing his ass off on the side of a mountain. Thankfully, that would be over soon. He saw movement near the cabin and with one hand, he tucked Jessie’s picture back in his pocket and with the other, he picked up the binoculars.
Garrett focused them on the porch and saw Josiah Miller. He was wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt and a pair of jeans and boots. He had a coffee mug in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He was leaning up against one of the wooden beams and looking out at the snow that surrounded him. Garrett knew it would take Miller a few minutes to see what he’d left him. He lay down in the snow behind his rifle and put the binoculars down. He sighted his scope, taking his time as Miller continued to nurse his coffee. Garrett’s finger caressed the trigger and watched through the powerful scope as Miller’s eyes grew wide, his face went pale, and the mug slipped from his fingers. The bullet tore through his head before the mug even finished shattering against the wooden porch.
Garrett took his time packing his things up, making sure he didn’t leave anything behind, before walking the two miles down to where the cabin was and the dead man lay, to do the same. The first thing he did was take down the picture he’d stolen out of Miller’s things while he was sleeping a few nights before. It was one that he’d had taken of Dax with his gun to some thug’s head. It was black and white and big enough for Miller to see from the porch where he stood each day. Garrett would gather the rest of the pictures once the body was taken care of. He’d take what he found in the cabin to Dax and then he’d go home to Las Vegas…for one last visit before he met Josiah Miller in hell.