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One hot holiday, p.13

One Hot Holiday, page 13

 

One Hot Holiday
 


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  Not happening.

  Spencer ran as fast as he could, and he launched at the perp. His tackle sent them hurtling off the path, and they crashed into the sand. Spencer flipped the man over, and the SOB made his night by trying to take a swing at him.

  Spencer dodged the swing and punched back with his own attack. A hard hit that slammed into the perp’s jaw and had his head plunging against the sand. Before the idiot could move again, Spencer had his gun aimed at the fellow’s forehead. “Hello, Fenton.”

  “Fuck me.” A snarl of frustration.

  “No, you’re not exactly my type.” It was dark on that stretch of beach. Plenty of shadows, plenty of places to hide, and “Fenton” had probably been counting on that fact to avoid detection.

  “Get the hell off me!”

  “Why’d you run? I believe I told you to freeze, and as a US Marshal, you should understand the importance of following an officer’s order.”

  No response.

  “Oh, wait…” Spencer hauled the jerk to his feet and kept the gun aimed the whole time. “You’re not a US Marshal. You’re just as asshole who tried to shoot an unarmed woman this morning.”

  “What? No, no!” The fool lunged away. He tore from Spencer’s grasp and ran—

  Spencer sighed. And watched as Titus stepped from behind a nearby tree and clotheslined the jackass. The perp slammed straight into Titus’s extended arm and fell back down.

  Spencer closed in. Now both he and Titus had their guns on the guy. “Run again, and we’ll shoot your ass.”

  The perp spat out sand.

  “You’re under arrest,” Spencer told him. “You impersonated an officer of the law and you freaking shot at—”

  “I haven’t shot at anyone! Someone stole my gun right out of my motel. I swear it!”

  Spencer hauled the man to his feet. “I don’t want your bullshit.”

  “I’m not giving you bullshit!” Sand rained off him as he straightened. “I didn’t shoot anyone!”

  “Then who the hell did? Who the hell took aim at Haley Quick this morning?”

  The guy’s mouth dropped open, but he didn’t offer up anyone else’s name.

  “Yeah,” Spencer snarled. “That’s what I thought. Your ass is getting locked up. Right now.”

  ***

  “You can’t do this shit!” The prisoner grabbed the bars of the holding cell in the sheriff’s station. “I have rights! You don’t just get to lock me up and—”

  “Impersonating a US Marshal is a crime.” Spencer had already bagged and tagged the guy’s fake ID and his real ID. “But then I suspect you know that, don’t you, Francis?” Francis, not Fenton. Fenton had just been a BS name.

  Francis Callaway tightened his hold on the bars. “Look, so I got a little overzealous with my job! I didn’t expect some Podunk sheriff to spot me watching my target in the bar. I needed a cover story.”

  “Podunk,” Titus muttered from his position a few feet away. His back was pressed to the wall, his arms crossed over his chest. “That’s just insulting. I happen to think we are fucking charming.”

  Francis cut him a nervous glance, then turned his attention back to Spencer. “Look, you’re sleeping with her. I get it. I understand how it all went down. She’s hot, you get to score with her, so maybe you started feeling all possessive and you got a little crazy—”

  Spencer took a step toward the cell.

  Titus let out a low whistle. “Oh, first you insult his hometown, now you say shit about his girl. You keep on, and you’re going to dig yourself a hole so deep you will never come out.”

  Spencer didn’t look away from the perp. “He’s already done that. He got in too deep the minute he shot at Haley.”

  “No!” Francis jerked his hands back and made a quick time-out gesture.

  A friggin’ time-out sign? Seriously? Were they playing a game?

  “I didn’t shoot anyone, I told you that already! I was hired to find her when she split from New York. To tail her. That was all!”

  Like Spencer bought his story.

  There was a knock at the door behind him. Titus moved to open it, and a few moments later, Haley was rushing toward Spencer. No, toward the cell.

  He put out his hand, stopping her. “Don’t get too close to the perp.”

  “I-I don’t know him.”

  Spencer glanced over at Haley. She’d tilted her head and narrowed her eyes on the prisoner.

  “He’s not the one who attacked you back in New York?” Spencer asked.

  “Attacked?” Francis backed up a step. “I haven’t attacked anyone! I’m a PI! I was hired—”

  “To stalk her. Yes, you already admitted that shit,” Spencer snapped back. “But you didn’t tell us who hired you.”

  Francis clamped his lips together.

  “He is not seriously doing that shit,” Titus announced. “He’s not covering up for his boss when he’s facing an attempted murder charge? Tell me he’s not that stupid.”

  Francis wasn’t talking.

  “He’s that stupid,” Spencer announced.

  Francis shook his head. “I give my client’s confidentiality! And I haven’t shot anyone! I’m not a killer! I’m a PI!”

  “You’re a creep.” Spencer had seen his type before. “You stalked Haley and you ran back to your boss, Drew Bradley, and you told him exactly where to find her.”

  Haley pressed close to Spencer. With her gaze on the prisoner, she demanded, “Did you tell Drew where I was?”

  Francis wouldn’t look at her. “I want a lawyer. Even in Podunk places like this, you get lawyers. And phone calls. I want my phone call.”

  “Fine. We’ll get you a lawyer. He’ll be here first thing tomorrow.” Spencer caught Haley’s hand in his and turned away from the prisoner. “Have a good night, Francis.”

  “You aren’t leaving me here!”

  Spencer didn’t look back at him. “Deputies will be on duty out front. I’ll make sure one brings you a phone. Sweet dreams.”

  “There’s a fucking toilet in the corner of the cell!”

  “Yes, you’re welcome.”

  “I’m not a criminal! I didn’t do anything wrong! I’m just doing my job and I’m—”

  Spencer sighed. “Impersonating a marshal?” He glanced over his shoulder. “Stalking a woman? And if you didn’t pull the trigger on the gun this morning, then you were still damn well involved if you told Drew Bradley where to find her.”

  And there it was. Pay dirt. He saw Francis blanch.

  “You did. You told him.” Spencer shook his head. “Yeah, you’re gonna need a lawyer.” His hold tightened on Haley’s hand. “Let’s go.”

  Instead of leaving, she pulled away from him and marched toward the bars. “Drew is a criminal. You were working for him? You told him I was here?”

  Francis wrinkled his face. “Lady, I was doing my job. Some guy said his girlfriend left him and she took some valuables with her. Simple story. How was I supposed to know it was a lie?”

  “If you’re any kind of PI,” Spencer growled back, “then you know. You would have done some recon work on your client.”

  Francis swallowed.

  “Or…maybe he’s not a new client.” Spencer considered this angle.

  “That’s what I was thinking,” Titus added, voice flat. “Maybe our Francis is the Bradley bastard’s go-to guy when trouble comes up. Maybe Francis here is neck deep in Drew Bradley’s dirty business.”

  “I am not!” Francis was sweating. “I was only doing this one job. He pays well, okay? I got an ex-wife and alimony, and it was just a simple tail gig.” His gaze darted to Haley. “I followed you, and I reported it. That’s all. How many times do I have to say it? He didn’t even want me to make contact with you. Just wanted me to keep an eye on you until—”

  Now he stopped. Figured.

  Titus shoved away from the wall. “Keep an eye on her until—what?”

  “I am not a hitman! Okay? I’m not! I’m a PI, but I am not
about to cross Drew Bradley.” Francis swiped his hand over his sweaty forehead. “You know what happens when you do that shit?”

  It was Haley who answered. “Someone tries to shoot you on a beach.”

  Francis made another swipe over his forehead. “Guy said he loved you. Okay? Love. So maybe it’s not even him. Maybe he’s trying to keep you safe, but people who are his enemies are closing in. Huh. What about that? Did you think about that?”

  Spencer thought he was looking at a jackass. “Andrew told you to watch her until he arrived in Point Hope.” It made sense.

  And the widening of Francis’s beady eyes told him that he was right. Sonofabitch.

  “No!” Francis gave a vehement shake of his head. “No, man, I did not say that! I did not—”

  “You didn’t have to,” Titus groused. “Shit was obvious on your face.”

  It was time for Spencer to give Francis something new to worry about. “Bet your boss will be pissed that you gave him up so easily.”

  “Seriously pissed,” Titus agreed.

  Haley stiffened.

  “What? No, man, no, I didn’t give him—” Realization dawned. “Oh, fuck me. You’re gonna let him believe that shit? Can you even do that?”

  Spencer smiled at him. “Sweet dreams.”

  He and Haley headed for the door. She kept glancing back over her shoulder.

  “I didn’t shoot at you, lady!” For someone who’d asked for a lawyer, the fellow was certainly being talkative as all hell. “Last night, I crashed in a motel—”

  “We checked your motel this morning. You weren’t there.” Titus sounded annoyed.

  “Yeah, not that one. That was total BS.” He rattled off a name and an address. “I was in my room, ordering movies, and you know they put that shit on the bill. I had me a movie marathon last night, and you can check it out.”

  Great. The guy’s alibi was that he’d been in his motel room watching porn.

  “I’m not a killer! Shit, I wanted to cut out of this town, but I was told to wait for…for my boss to arrive. Okay? He just wanted me to keep eyes on the area until he could get here.”

  Haley’s worried stare met Spencer’s. “Drew is coming here?”

  He might already be there. Slowly, Spencer turned and shook his head at the fool in the cell. “Don’t you get it? He was going to pin it on you.”

  Francis rocked forward. “What are you talking about?”

  “Her death would look suspicious. You get that, right? He told you to stay here because he was going to let you be the fall guy. He was setting you up for her murder.” Spencer let that sink in, then added, “And we’ll be sure to get you that phone call. Maybe you want to call your boss and tell him that I’m coming for him. I’m not going to stop until he’s the one behind bars.”

  A rough and nervous laugh choked from Francis. “Good luck with that.”

  “I don’t need luck. The bastard is going down and that’s a promise.”

  He headed out with Haley, and Titus followed right behind him. When they were away from the holding area, Titus asked, “Think he’ll be dumb enough to actually call his boss?”

  “He damn well might be.”

  Chapter Twelve

  “I want to come inside, Haley.”

  She stood on the cottage’s small porch, looking far too delicate and, dammit, breakable, as the lights near the door fell on her.

  “Let me check out the cottage. I need to be sure everything is okay in there.”

  Haley gave a slow nod, sending her hair bobbing. “That’s why you want to come in? To protect and serve?” She turned away and unlocked the door.

  He followed her in and locked the door. He watched as she reset the alarm system, and then told her, “That’s not the only reason. I want to fuck you, but I figured I shouldn’t lead with that.”

  Haley swung toward him.

  Okay. He probably should have worded that differently. Maybe used more tact, but—

  She’d been dead silent on the ride home. Silent since they’d left that piece of shit jerk in the cell. Her silence was making him nervous. “Haley…”

  “Do you really think Drew Bradley is going to personally try and kill me?”

  Unfortunately… “Yes, I do.” It was a possibility he couldn’t ignore. Spencer had learned more about her ex that day. Off the books info that he’d gotten from Eric Wilde, and Spencer had discovered how twisted Drew Bradley’s world truly was.

  “He sent a goon after me in New York. Why not just send someone else now? I mean, maybe that PI is lying, maybe he was the one who pulled the trigger and maybe—” She stopped. Sucked in a deep breath.

  “I already had a deputy check at the motel—Francis was watching his movies. Or someone was in the room ordering them. It’s hardly an ironclad alibi, but the man seemed legitimately spooked at the idea he might be facing an attempted murder charge.” Spooked. Stunned. Spencer was betting that after a night in the cell, Francis would want to cooperate.

  Or maybe not. It depended on how much Francis feared Drew Bradley.

  He let out a low sigh. “I want to check the cottage. Will you give me a few minutes?”

  She nodded.

  He hurried through the rooms. Checked under the bed. In the closet. Studied the windows and the locks, making sure nothing had been tampered with while they were gone.

  Then he went back to her. Haley still stood in the middle of the den. Her head was tilted forward. She looked so fragile, and he hated that. He reached for her arm, and his fingers skimmed over the skin near her bandage. “I should have done a better job of taking care of you. I won’t screw up again.”

  “I should have done a better job of staying away from you.” Her chin lifted. “I won’t screw up again.”

  Oh, hell, no. He did not like where this was going. “Haley…”

  “You could have been shot today.”

  “I’m a sheriff. I could get shot every day.”

  Horror flashed in her eyes. Obviously, that had been the wrong thing to say. Very wrong. “What I meant…” He backtracked. “Risk is part of the job. Even if you and I weren’t personally involved, I’d still protect you. That’s what I do.”

  “You also keep secrets.”

  So do you, sweetheart. But he’d known this was coming. “I didn’t tell you about the fake marshal last night—”

  “Because you didn’t think I’d fuck you?”

  Tread very carefully. “Because I wanted you to tell me the truth on your own. I wanted you to trust me enough to do that. I also didn’t buy his story, and I was looking for proof before I did anything else.”

  “I do.”

  She did…what?

  “I do trust you.” Her hands twisted in front of her. “That’s why I’m still here. That’s why I wanted you last night. I trust you, even though we just met, and I’m scared to death that I’m making another mistake.”

  “I’m not a mistake.” The last thing he wanted to do was scare her away.

  “I don’t want you hurt.” Her voice had gone softer. “I don’t want you shot. I don’t care if you’re the sheriff or not, promise me that you won’t get hurt because you’re trying to keep me safe.”

  He was not going to make that promise. “I want to catch the bastard.”

  Her lashes fluttered.

  “I believe he’s in the area, Haley. I think he came down here for you. I want to catch him, and I want to lock him up.”

  “I tried that. It failed. He had the cops on his side. He had—”

  “Because he was playing on his home turf. He’s a long way from home down here. And I can promise you, he’s not going to have me in his pocket. I will catch him, and we’ll nail his ass. We’ve already collected evidence from the shooting on the bluff. We’re lining up the pieces, and we will put him away.” Then she wouldn’t have to be afraid. Then she wouldn’t have to run. “Give me a chance to do my job. I’ve got all eyes in the area hunting for this man.”

  “But what if
it’s not Drew? What if it’s someone else he’s sent for me? It could be a killer for hire. It could be anyone.”

  Yes, it could be, but… “According to Wilde Securities—”

  “Wait, back up. Who is Wilde? Wilde Securities? I don’t understand…” Her brows scrunched.

  “Back when I was a SEAL, I met a guy named Eric Wilde. Eric could do nearly anything with tech, and it was his tech that helped to save my team when things went to hell around us.”

  Her eyes darkened.

  “When I got stateside again, Eric was setting up his business, Wilde Securities. He normally guards the rich and famous, but he’s got tech in basically every house in the world these days. He invented a security system that made him millions. The US government uses him, criminals are terrified of him, and there is no secret that he can’t discover.”

  She nodded. “I see. So when the PI came to you last night, you sent Eric after my secrets.”

  Fuck it. “Yes.”

  She flinched.

  He wanted to touch her so badly. Instead, he fisted his hands. “I asked Eric to dig into the life of US Marshal Fenton Callaway and Andrew Bradley. You were tied to them, so I knew he’d have to research you. I couldn’t protect you without looking at them.”

  “And he found out that Fenton was a fake.”

  “He did. He also found out that Andrew Bradley is supposedly on a trip to LA, but when Eric dug more, he learned that the guy never checked into his LA hotel. At least, not personally. He had a virtual check-in. No one at the hotel has actually seen him. He went off the grid. The timing of that is too coincidental for me. I think he’s trying to set up a cover story. I don’t think he’s in Los Angeles. I think he’s here.”

  “To kill me.”

  “It’s not happening.” A hard vow.

  “So you know all my secrets.”

  “No, baby, I don’t know everything.” He had the feeling he could spend the next twenty years with her, and she’d still surprise him.

  “What happens now?”

  It was late as hell and she probably wanted to crash. He stepped back. “I can sleep on your couch, if you don’t want to be alone. Or if you don’t want me here, I can go to the main house. The security system I had installed here is top notch, I swear. You’ll be safe.”

 
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