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One hot holiday, p.17

One Hot Holiday, page 17

 

One Hot Holiday
 


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  Spencer headed for his office. He’d left Haley in there moments before, mostly because he hadn’t wanted her to watch him rip into Linc. But when he swung open the door to his office…

  Haley wasn’t there.

  His heart gave a quick squeeze, but, shit, they were in the sheriff’s station. It was a safe space.

  Safe…right…except Francis busted out last night.

  With help. With freaking help.

  Spencer rushed through the station. He peered into the waiting area. No dice. She wasn’t in the small break room, either. Where was she?

  He almost ran into Titus.

  Spencer grabbed Titus by the arm. “Haley isn’t in my office.”

  “That’s because I saw her go out front while you were in holding.”

  And you didn’t mention that sooner?

  “She wanted some air, so she strolled out with a deputy. And Blair just headed outside, too.” He motioned toward the blinds that were open to reveal the street outside. “You can see Haley from here if you—”

  Spencer let him go as he caught sight of her. He double-timed it toward the front of the station.

  “Sure, you’re welcome. Happy to help!” Titus called after him.

  Tension filled Spencer’s body. Something was nagging at him. Not just something. Everything.

  Francis had escaped from the sheriff’s station. With mystery help.

  Then he’d vanished. The last time Francis had been seen on any security camera had been when he’d left the station. That brief moment out back. Why hadn’t he been picked up on any other cameras? He couldn’t have disappeared into thin air.

  And then there was the whole deal with Andrew turning up at that tree farm. Acting like he was the good guy and simply strolling right up to Haley and the others as if…

  As if he wanted to be caught. As if he wanted to be brought in to the station.

  Spencer’s hands slammed into the front door as he shoved it open. “Haley!”

  She was talking with the deputy. Smiling. Blair stood near her, but the Wilde agent was on her phone.

  At his shout, Haley glanced up at Spencer. Her eyes sparkled at him.

  And someone moved behind her. A shadowy figure that shot out from the thin alley between the station and the nearby Italian restaurant. A restaurant that was closed for the holiday season because the owners had gone back to Italy in order to visit family.

  The figure moved with a dangerous stealth. No, no, no. Spencer caught sight of Francis’s face. The guy appeared pale and grim as he lifted his arm up and aimed a gun at—

  Haley. Oh, God, at Haley.

  That was why they hadn’t seen the PI on any other video footage. He’d been right fucking there all along. He hadn’t escaped from the little town. Hadn’t headed for New Orleans or another big city so he could vanish.

  He’d been right there.

  Deputies had been sent to search the restaurant. They’d missed him. They’d missed him!

  Fucking hell. Francis had a gun in his hand. His hand was shaking as he stared at Haley.

  “Sorry!” Francis called out. “So f-fucking s-sorry—”

  Haley rolled toward Francis.

  “No!” Spencer roared. He was too far away. He was racing, lunging for Haley, but he couldn’t get to her in time.

  Bam!

  Bam!

  The bullets exploded from Francis’s gun. Haley’s body jerked. Once. Twice. Then she was falling back, her brown coat swirling around her as she tumbled onto the sidewalk.

  The deputy near her struggled to pull out his gun.

  “I’m…sorry…” Francis staggered and lurched to the side.

  Spencer fired. He had his weapon out, and he fucking fired. He hit Francis in the chest. Two shots in quick succession because that sonofabitch had just shot Haley twice.

  He shot her. He shot my Haley.

  Francis’s eyes went wide. The gun slipped from his fingers, and he fell to the pavement.

  “Secure him!” Spencer shouted.

  Haley, Haley, Haley…

  The deputy scrambled to get near Francis and grab his discarded gun. Blair followed right on his heels, while Spencer dropped to his knees beside Haley.

  “Oh, God, baby.” Rage and fear twisted through him. “It’s going to be okay.” His voice was hoarse. Ragged. “We’re going to get help.”

  Shot. The bastard had shot her. He shot my Haley. The litany cycled through Spencer’s mind over and over.

  “Get an ambulance!” Spencer bellowed as he yanked open her coat. “Get an—”

  Haley’s eyes flew open. She sucked in a sharp breath. “OhmyGod.”

  “Baby, I’m here. It’s going to be all right. I’m going to make—”

  “It hurts…like a bitch.”

  “I know, baby, I know. It’s okay. I’ve got you, I’ve—” He…didn’t see blood on her. Two bullet holes in her top, yes, but no blood.

  Her hand grabbed his. “Best…Christmas present…ever.” Each word seemed to be a bit of struggle.

  “Haley?”

  She jerked his hand toward her stomach. Shoved it under her sweater. Only instead of touching her skin, his fingers felt—

  “A bulletproof vest?” His lips curled as relief poured through every cell in his body. “You’re wearing a bulletproof vest?”

  “From…Linc. Said I had to be…careful.” She stared up at him. A tear slid from her left eye. “I…didn’t get chance…take…off…”

  He hauled her into his arms.

  She groaned.

  “Shit, Haley, I’m sorry!” He knew she’d be sporting some serious bruising from the bullets, but only bruising. The vest had saved her. She was okay. He held her tighter as relief made him lightheaded.

  She was going to be fine.

  In that one moment, when the bullets had hit her and Spencer had thought he was watching her die in front of him…

  I lost my mind.

  Because he’d realized exactly how much Haley Quick mattered to him.

  She mattered to him more than any fucking thing. Her raspberries and cream scent swept around him as he held her tight. He shuddered. Too close. That was too fucking close. He never, ever wanted to be that afraid again. For a while, he simply held her.

  The rest of the world slowly penetrated the haze that had surrounded him. Spencer heard other voices. Shouts. Sirens.

  His head turned. Titus was on the sidewalk. He was bending over Francis as he tried to save the shooter’s life.

  Blair was working feverishly on Francis, too.

  A crowd was watching.

  “What?” Titus put his head closer to Francis’s mouth. “What the hell are you saying to me?”

  Spencer had no idea what Francis said. If he said anything.

  Titus swore and whipped his head up. “Where’s the damn ambulance?”

  It was coming. Coming…the scream of the siren was getting louder.

  Would the ambulance get there soon enough?

  “Go,” Haley whispered. “Go to him.”

  Spencer motioned for his deputies. “Put up a fucking wall around her,” he ordered them. “Don’t let anyone else close to her. Only the EMTs when they arrive.” He kissed Haley. Hard and fast. “I will not lose you.”

  But he wanted her off the street. Because Francis still had a partner.

  A partner…

  Fuck.

  While the deputies surrounded Haley, Spencer rushed to Francis. “You failed, bastard. Haley is okay.”

  Blood trickled from Francis’s mouth. “S-sorry…”

  “You will be sorry. If you survive, you’ll go to jail for attempted murder. No getting out of it, we all saw you pull the trigger this time.”

  Francis’s lips trembled. “S-saved…her…”

  “I don’t know what the hell he’s rambling about,” Titus muttered. His fingers were covered in Francis’s blood. “I swear, he mentioned some other woman a minute ago. Marsha? Said he was protecting Marsha.”

&
nbsp; The name clicked for Spencer. It was a name that Wilde had produced when the agency sent over a file on Francis. “That’s his ex-wife.” But…protecting her?

  Spencer glanced around the street. An ambulance was racing toward them with its lights flashing.

  Francis had already nearly bled out on the street. Spencer was a damn good shot, and he’d been aiming for Francis’s heart. But the guy had lurched just as Spencer fired the first bullet.

  That lurch might have saved the PI’s life.

  Or he could die before the ambulance got him to the hospital.

  The scene was chaos as the EMTs arrived and frantically loaded Francis into the vehicle.

  “I want a deputy with him every moment. Even when he’s in the OR, I want eyes on him,” Spencer told Titus.

  Titus responded with a grim nod before he turned and gave an order to one of the deputies. A female deputy immediately jumped into the vehicle. The sirens were screaming as it raced away. The people on the streets were whispering. Watching. Wreaths swayed drunkenly in the breeze, and blood stained the pavement.

  He knew what the townspeople were thinking. What they were feeling. The fear was plain to see on their faces. Things like this weren’t supposed to happen so close to home. They were supposed to be safe. They counted on him to keep them safe.

  He’d been elected sheriff because these people trusted him. They depended on him.

  They were supposed to be safe.

  Unfortunately, that wasn’t how life always worked. Danger could be anywhere. Safety could be shattered. And in the blink of an eye, you could lose the thing that mattered most.

  His gaze went back to Haley.

  A second group of EMTs had loaded her into another ambulance. They were checking her out and he bounded toward them.

  “This is becoming a terrible habit,” she muttered when he climbed inside. “I don’t like ambulances.” Her gaze flickered to the nearby EMT. “No offense.”

  “None taken.” It was his old high school buddy again. And Dodge had cut away part of Haley’s shirt so he could remove the bulletproof vest. Dodge turned his head and looked over at Spencer. “She’s okay. Going to be sore for a few days, but the vest saved her hide.” He hesitated. “I can take her to the hospital—”

  “Spencer, no.” She struggled to sit up and pushed away Dodge’s hand when he tried to press her down. “I just want to go home.” Her eyes were so big and deep. “Can we please go home?”

  He wanted to take her home. He wanted to scoop her into his arms and take her a million miles away from any danger that might ever come toward her. And he would take her home. But… “I have to take care of one thing first.”

  Her lower lip trembled.

  “Baby, I’ll be right back. And I’ll take you home, I swear, and I’ll make sure you’re safe all night long.” Because he would be holding her in his arms all night.

  If he could, he’d hold her forever.

  ***

  Spencer threw open the door to the interrogation room. Two deputies had been ordered to watch Andrew, and one had run out at the sound of gunfire to check the situation on the street. He’d immediately been sent back in to guard the prisoner, but Andrew hadn’t tried to flee during the chaos.

  Because Spencer knew that fleeing wasn’t part of his plan.

  Andrew sat at the table, his hands folded on his lap, and a furrow between his brows. “I heard there was a shooting outside.” He blinked his eyes. Looked extra worried. So unbelievable. “The deputies told me that someone might have been killed.”

  The deputies needed to stop telling that guy jackshit. That was the problem with a young, green crew. Too trusting. Too untrained. Too unprepared when real evil was right in front of them.

  Spencer marched toward Andrew. He leaned in close. Got right in Andrew’s face. “You know what I hate?”

  “I could hazard a guess that you’re not a big fan of—”

  “Bastards like you who think they can control the world. Newsflash, asshole. This is my town.”

  Andrew’s eyes gleamed. “You seem upset.” He sucked in a sharp breath as his eyes widened. “Someone was hurt out there, oh, God, was it—”

  “Haley is fine. She’s guarded, and soon she’ll be going back home with me.” Because he was watching the jerk so closely, Spencer saw the stiffening of Andrew’s jaw.

  “Haley?” Andrew swallowed. “I-I didn’t even realize she was outside.”

  Seriously? He could only shake his head. “You must have been dealing with some real dumbasses before. I see through your shit. You arranged it all. You didn’t put up a fight about coming back to the station because this is where you wanted us all to be. You had Francis staked out nearby, and you ordered him to wait. You directed him to keep waiting and as soon as he saw Haley, you told the guy to shoot.” It fit. Every piece of the puzzle.

  Andrew licked his lower lip. “So…Francis tried to hurt Haley?” He shook his head and appeared distraught. “I told you that man was unhinged. He’s working for my enemies, and they will do anything to hurt me…even targeting an innocent woman. It’s such a good thing that I got here to help Haley.”

  “Oh, yeah, because you’re a real fucking hero.”

  Andrew didn’t speak. He sniffed.

  “Francis shot Haley. He didn’t know she was wearing a bulletproof vest, so the bullets bruised her, but they didn’t do anything else.”

  Andrew’s breath came a little faster. “Bulletproof vest, huh? That’s good. That’s so good that you were protecting my girl like that.”

  Rage boiled inside of Spencer. “She’s not a girl. She’s a woman. And she’s fucking not yours.”

  Andrew smiled at him. Smiled. “Because you think she belongs to you? That’s so cute. You’re a hick sheriff in a nothing town. You don’t know a thing about Haley. Not the real Haley. She will never be satisfied with a guy like you or in a place like this. She’s using you for a hiding spot. A safe shelter because she was running from Francis. Give her the choice, and she’d choose me over you in a heartbeat. I’m everything that she ever wanted. I’m the man she was going to marry. I am—”

  “You’re a monster.” Haley’s voice was flat.

  Spencer stiffened.

  He glanced over his shoulder. Haley stood in the doorway, with Titus right behind her.

  Titus shrugged. “Sorry, boss.” He didn’t sound sorry. “She wanted to know what was happening. We were watching through the one-way mirror.” He pointed to the left. “But then the guy called you a hick—”

  “And it pissed me off,” Haley finished.

  Spencer shoved away from the table and headed for her. “Baby, you shouldn’t be in here.”

  Her cheeks were flushed. Her furious gaze locked on Andrew.

  “I’m so glad you’re okay.” Andrew rose to his feet. “When the sheriff told me that the PI had tried to hurt you, I was terrified.”

  “I have a choice,” Haley threw at him. “I always have a choice. And I don’t choose you. I won’t choose you. You’re a liar. You’re a criminal.”

  Andrew put his hand to his chest. “You don’t understand what’s been happening. That persona was a cover, nothing more. You have to listen to me. I’ve been working with the Feds. I can call them right now, and they’ll back up everything I say. That’s how the charges were dropped against me in New York. They weren’t dismissed because I’m some mob boss with connections. The charges—the whole case—it all went away because I’m undercover.” His voice broke with emotion. “But I’m getting out of that life. I don’t want it anymore. I want you.” He lifted his hand toward her. “I realized how much I need you when you left me. No one has left me before. Other women wanted the money and the power I possessed. They didn’t care about anything else.”

  Spencer positioned his body protectively near Haley.

  “If that’s the case, then you chose the wrong women,” Haley told him flatly. “Your mistake.”

  Andrew took a quick step toward her. “
Haley—”

  “You’ll want to stand the hell down,” Spencer warned him grimly. “Now.”

  “My mistake was ever falling for you in the first place.” She shook her head. “I have a choice,” she said again. “I choose Spencer. Not because I’m looking for a place to hide. But because I like the way I feel when I’m with him.”

  “Haley.” Andrew’s breath shuddered out. “Didn’t you hear what I told you? I have FBI agents who can back me up. I was working with them in New York. I was doing the right thing. I couldn’t tell you the truth back then. I’m being painted as the bad guy, but I’m not.”

  Haley’s fingers curled around Spencer’s arm. “I know a bad guy when I see one.”

  Andrew’s jaw hardened. “You don’t know shit. You think the sheriff is some kind of super hero? He’s not. I did my digging on him. The guy is a lethal bastard. He’s killed people, don’t you get that? He was a gun for hire back in the day.”

  Well, well…so Andrew had been digging into his life, huh? Way to confess, dumbass. Andrew had obviously been studying the town and the people there. He’d been making his plan of attack. Now it’s my turn. “I think we’re done here for now.” Spencer turned toward Haley. “You need to rest.” She had to be sore as hell. “Let’s go home.”

  Haley nodded.

  “You aren’t leaving with him!” Andrew shouted. “You aren’t ditching me for some asshole sheriff who you don’t even really know—”

  “I know him far better than I know you.” Her chin notched up as her gaze darted over Andrew. “And I trust him.” Her lips pressed together. “Just so you know, I don’t think I ever really trusted you, not the whole time we were together. Something always felt off.”

  “Because I had to lie! I was working undercover! I had to—” He stopped. His gaze flew to Spencer. “It’s your fault. You’ve been fucking my fiancée, and you’ve turned her against me. You will pay.” He lunged forward with his fist swinging toward Spencer’s face.

  Spencer shoved Haley back because the last thing he wanted was for her to get caught in the crossfire. Andrew’s fist pounded into his jaw, and the guy had a solid hook. Spencer would give him that much.

  But Andrew’s reflexes were shit.

  The fool smiled in grim satisfaction when his fist thudded into Spencer’s jaw. Maybe he thought that punch was going to take Spencer down. He should have thought again.

 
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