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One hot holiday, p.8

One Hot Holiday, page 8

 

One Hot Holiday
 


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  So that shit was going to be investigated.

  He rose from the stool and made his way across the bar. Friends called out greetings, and he waved to them as he ambled toward his prey but…

  The guy’s gaze flickered to Spencer, and he tensed.

  You should tense. I’m coming for you.

  The man rose quickly. Tossed some cash down onto the table and made for the door.

  “Hey, Spence!” Keri curled her hand around his shoulder. “Tell me you’ll be singing tonight.”

  He shook his head. “Sorry, Keri, but I told Titus the microphone was all his.”

  Her eyes lit up. “Oh, I love it when he sings.” She immediately took off toward Titus.

  Yeah, Titus hated to sing. But he did have a soft spot for Keri, so Spencer was sure his buddy would be winding up on stage soon.

  Spencer glanced back toward the stranger. The table was empty. Dammit.

  The bar’s door was closing, the little bell overhead jingling. Spencer hurried forward. The fellow running out—right then—was suspicious as hell. Spencer didn’t get stopped again as he rushed outside. But when he made it to the street…

  His prey was gone.

  Spencer had catalogued the fellow when he saw him…Dark, receding hair. A thin frame. A nose that appeared to have been broken. Oversize clothes. Stubble on his jaw. When he’d gone for the door, Spencer had realized the man stood at about six feet tall.

  And he’d hauled ass. Seriously, hauled ass.

  Spencer’s gaze went to the left. Then to the right.

  A few people were walking on the street, and the lights in the trees were as merry as ever. But the mystery guy was gone, and that did not sit well with Spencer.

  The bell jingled behind him as the door opened. “Spence?”

  His shoulders stiffened at Haley’s voice. He schooled his expression before he faced her.

  She stood in the doorway, her head tilted, and her curls sliding over her shoulder. “Is everything okay? I turned back around and saw you running out.”

  He wasn’t so sure everything was okay. He didn’t like that the stranger had vanished. Major red flag.

  She took a few steps forward, and the door swung shut behind her. “You’re mad that I stayed?”

  He caught her hand in his and pulled her closer to him. Both because he wanted her close and just in case any threats were out there. “Hell, no, I’m not mad,” he told her gruffly. “I’m glad you’re staying.”

  A smile teased the corners of her lips.

  “I spent the whole day thinking that you were gone, and I was certain I’d missed out on something special.”

  “You say really nice things.”

  He groaned. “You called me nice again.” Did she not get that was the kiss of death to a guy? What was he gonna have to do in order to show her—

  She shot onto her tip toes, wrapped her hands around his shoulders, and hauled him toward her. Her mouth met his in a crash of need. He didn’t hold back. He wanted her—wildly, damn near desperately—and Spencer needed her to realize that. He wasn’t playing some game. He wanted her naked and screaming his name.

  She kissed him with a wild abandon that he loved. A passion that made him crave her all the more. His hands locked around her hips, and he wanted to lift her up, to hold her and let her wrap those gorgeous legs around him as they fucking forgot everything else.

  But…

  A car passed, honking excitedly.

  But this wasn’t the place.

  His head slowly lifted.

  “I think I like nice,” she whispered. “It’s a good change for me.” A pause. “I promised Maureen that I’d work until ten tonight. Any chance you want to meet me after?”

  Hell, yes. “Yeah,” he told her gruffly. “I’ll be here.”

  She smiled at him again, the kind of smile that made a guy think it was just for him, and then she hurried up to the bar’s door. He watched her go because a man sure as hell knew to enjoy a view when he had one. The door closed behind her, and once he knew she was safely inside…

  He spun around just in time to see the shadow moving near the bookstore. The bookstore’s windows were decorated with a whimsical display of reading snowmen, and the light from the display provided enough illumination for him to see…

  Got you.

  Spencer took off running across the road. He heard his prey give a fast, hard curse as the man scrambled to escape.

  Not happening.

  Spencer caught the fellow just as he darted around the corner. Spencer slammed him against the nearby brick wall. He lodged one forearm against the guy’s throat. “Who the fuck are you?”

  A gasp. The man’s coat opened as he struggled, and Spencer caught sight of the bulky object there. An object in a holster. A gun.

  In a flash, Spence had taken the gun from him. Aimed it at the fellow. “Let’s try this shit again,” Spencer snarled. “Who the fuck are you and why are you watching Haley Quick?”

  The man lifted his hands. “Let me…” he panted. “Show…ID.”

  “I’ll get the ID. You keep your hands up.” Spencer reached forward. Patted him down and pulled back out—

  Fuck.

  There was enough illumination from the lighted trees around them to easily see the star within the circle…the identifying symbol of… “You’re a US Marshal?”

  “Yes.” Stronger. Rougher.

  “What in the hell do you want with Haley?” Spencer’s gut had tightened because this shit was not going to be—

  “I want to protect her.”

  Chapter Seven

  Spencer stalked around his desk and glowered at the US Marshal who’d just taken a seat in his office. “Talk,” Spencer ordered as he glanced down at the ID he still kept.

  US Marshal Fenton Callaway. Spencer had already made plans to thoroughly check the guy out because, yeah, he wasn’t exactly a trusting sonofabitch.

  Fenton sighed. “You don’t have clearance to hear everything I’ve got to say.”

  Oh, that was cute. Spencer laughed and tossed the ID back at the fellow. “I’m the sheriff here. You’re in my town. I have clearance for every fucking thing that’s going on.”

  Fenton gave a little hum.

  What. The. Hell?

  Spencer leveled a hard stare at him. “You don’t want me to tell you to talk again…”

  Fenton quickly swallowed. “Look, it’s obvious, you’re, um, involved here. Like, personally involved. And I get it. Haley is hot. Smoking.”

  Spencer felt his body stiffen. Don’t deck a marshal. Don’t… “Watch yourself.”

  Another swallow. One so loud that Spencer heard the click. “Yes, so, personal involvements don’t work out. You need to step back.”

  “From what?”

  “From her, of course! Who else are we talking about?”

  Spencer rolled back his shoulders. “I get the game.”

  “This isn’t a game. I realize it’s high above your paygrade, but you should take my word for it and just—”

  Spencer’s laughter stopped him.

  Fenton’s cheeks flushed. “Did I say something funny?”

  “You don’t know my paygrade.” Asshole. What a dick thing to say. “And you don’t know me. Don’t come into my town and treat me like I’m some hick who can’t handle a case. Because if I remember correctly, I was the one who got the drop on you. I pegged you as a stalker with one glance at the bar.”

  Fenton immediately shot to attention in his chair. “I am not a stalker! I was protecting her, just like I told you! I was doing my job.” His face scrunched up. “Not trying to get in her pants—which is what I think you were doing.”

  “Do you want me to beat the shit out of you?”

  Fenton’s wide-eyed glance swept around the too quiet station. “You…you can’t do that. You’re the sheriff…”

  “I’m off-duty.” Spencer waited for the man’s gaze to lock on his. “And either you talk or I go over your head and find out f
rom your supervisor exactly why you’re in my town, stalking my tenant.”

  Fenton shot to his feet. “You don’t have to call anyone! Dammit! Look, I’m not here officially.”

  And I’m not going to officially kick your ass…but it will still happen.

  “I…felt sorry for her, if you want to know the truth.”

  “Why would you feel sorry for Haley?”

  “Because she got a raw deal! She brought in her evidence, enough evidence that should have buried her ex, but you throw in a few bad cops—cops too eager for a quick take—and add in some folks in the DA’s office who conveniently helped the other team…and all of sudden, the case that should have been fool-proof is nothing but ashes.”

  Case? What case? When he’d been looking into Haley’s past, he hadn’t found ties to a case.

  Fenton was still talking. Still fuming as he said, “And the person you’ve got with the balls to come forward? It’s Haley. Only instead of getting the federal protection she was promised…

  “Witness protection,” Spencer muttered. He’d figured that part out. Why else would a marshal be involved? He hadn’t thought for one second that Haley might be a fugitive. Marshals were mostly involved with fugitive apprehension and witness protection. Since he didn’t buy that Haley was guilty of a crime, option two made more sense to him.

  “Yes, yes, witness protection. The folks in charge told Haley that she’d get a new name and a new life, but someone with power—someone like her jackass ex—pulled his strings and her new life vanished. She was left alone in the city with his thugs closing in and, hell, is it any wonder she cut and ran?”

  Spencer’s hands had fisted at his sides.

  “So…yes.” Fenton raked a hand through his thinning hair. He sat down again, slouched in the chair, and wrinkled his clothes even more. “Yes, I tailed her a bit. I wanted to make sure she wound up safe and not in some hole in the ground. The whole case vanished from public record, and I didn’t want her vanishing, too.”

  The case vanished from public record. Well, that explained why Spencer hadn’t found it in his search. But cases didn’t usually vanish, not unless someone with a whole lot of pull was yanking on strings. Spencer sucked in a deep breath. “I want the name of the ex.”

  “Look, I told you, buddy, this is way above your—” Fenton stopped as he stared into Spencer’s eyes. “Fine. Your funeral. You want the name? It’s Andrew Bradley. Drew Bradley. On paper, he looks clean as a whistle, but you listen to your girl, and she’ll spin a different story. One that will give you nightmares.”

  The name wasn’t familiar. He’d been digging into Haley’s life, but he hadn’t turned up the guy. So many secrets had been hidden. Secrets that someone had wanted to bury.

  Dammit, he was going to need to call in some more favors on this case.

  Fenton’s chin jutted toward his chest. “I came down here to make sure she’s safe.”

  “She is,” Spencer said flatly.

  “’Cause she’s sleeping with you?”

  “I don’t like you, Fenton. You should know that.”

  Fenton huffed. “Well, I don’t like you much, either. You freaking attacked me in the street, and you’re lucky I don’t have you up on charges right now.”

  “Why don’t you try to press charges and let’s see how that shit works out?”

  Once more, Fenton rose to his feet. His glare turned his eyes beady. “I’m getting out of here. You wanted to know more, I told you more. Now I’ve got a motel room waiting in the next town.” He rattled off the address of the place over in Daphne, Alabama.

  Everything the joker said made Spencer suspicious. “Why aren’t you staying in Point Hope?”

  “Didn’t want to stay here, because just in case I was followed, I didn’t want to lead the bad guys to Haley.”

  “Uh, huh. Good of you to think ahead.”

  “Now that I know she’s okay, I’ll be getting back on the road first thing in the morning. It’s one long haul back home for me.”

  Another piece that didn’t fit. “You’re going to leave without ever talking to Haley?” Fenton had been in the bar, watching her, but not approaching her?

  “I just needed to see for myself that she was okay.” He seemed to take Spencer’s measure. “If things go to shit here, do you think you can keep her alive?”

  “Absolutely.”

  A grunt. “You’re a confident prick. I’ll give you that.”

  “I will keep her safe.”

  “Good.” Fenton tipped his head to Spencer and shuffled toward the door. “That’s all I needed to know. Merry freaking Christmas.”

  Spencer waited for him to leave the office. Waited for the door to close, then he reached for his phone. He’d made some good friends over the years. Both while he’d been a SEAL and after. One friend in particular would be coming in handy for him right about now.

  Eric Wilde.

  Eric Wilde ran Wilde Securities, the best security and protection firm on the East Coast. Spencer had done some work for Eric, back in the day, before he’d decided that he wanted to return to the home he’d left so long ago.

  Because it was late, he didn’t bother calling Eric at his office. Instead, Spencer dialed his buddy’s private line. His eyes stayed on the door. The phone rang once, twice…

  “Spence, you tricky bastard. Long time, no see.”

  Spencer’s lips curled. “What the hell are you talking about? I was at your wedding not too long ago.” He still couldn’t believe Eric had settled down or that the guy had looked so completely obsessed with his beaming bride.

  And, hell, Eric wasn’t just a husband now. He was a father. Talk about going all in…and Spencer knew Eric couldn’t be happier.

  “Yes, well, you need to come for a visit. Or, you know, I still have that position open for you—”

  “I’m not looking for a job. In fact, I have a job for you.”

  “Tell me that again?” Eric’s voice sharpened. “You got a problem? You want a team down there?”

  “I want information first, and I know how very good you are at acquiring information.”

  “I’m the best.” Not arrogance. Just truth.

  “That’s why I called.” Tension had gathered at the back of his neck. “I need you to do some research on a few names for me.”

  “All right.”

  Just like that. No questions asked. Just…all right. Because that was the kind of friend that Eric was. They’d met on a mission gone to hell. Eric hadn’t been a SEAL, but he’d helped to save the lives of Spencer and other members of his unit. Hell, Eric had saved a whole lot of units when he’d been working with Uncle Sam. Eric was a good man, a good friend, and Spencer knew he could count on Eric completely.

  It’s good to have friends you can count on in this world. “First, a man named Andrew Bradley. He’s up in New York—”

  “I know where he is.” Now Eric was even grimmer. “The man is bad news. Folks have been trying to lock him up for years, but he’s slippery.”

  “So I hear.” Slippery and dangerous. “The next guy is US Marshal Fenton Callaway. The guy just walked out of my office after he sang me a song and delivered a fancy dance.”

  “What was he singing about?”

  I’m not betraying her. I’m trying to help her. He’d tried to get Haley to confide in him, but she hadn’t. Now he had to learn as much as he could to ensure her safety. Still feels like a fucking betrayal. Spencer’s back teeth had clenched. With an effort, he gritted out, “Haley Quick. The marshal told me that she’s Drew’s ex and that she could be in danger.”

  A low whistle.

  “I want to know how much danger. I need to know what I’m facing so I can protect her.”

  “Like that, huh?”

  “Exactly like that.” Like I will do anything for her. “Someone broke into Haley’s place last night, and I’m not just going to sit around while she’s threatened.”

  “You’ve never been the sit-on-your-ass type.”
r />
  Hell, no. “I need to know who is coming for her. If I know the enemy, then I’ll be ready to kick ass.”

  “I’ll get everything I can,” Eric assured him. “You want manpower, too?”

  “I’ve got Titus. I can count on him.”

  “Hell, yeah, you can. Despite my efforts to recruit him, he hasn’t decided to join my team.”

  No, not yet. But Titus didn’t always like to stay in one place too long. And Spencer figured that one day—a day too soon—his friend would head out again. Titus often seemed to be searching for something…he just didn’t know what it was.

  “How fast can you get me this intel?”

  “Dude…it’s me. You’ll have everything you need to know by dawn.”

  Hell, yes. Hell, yes.

  ***

  She pushed open the bar’s front door. The bell jingled overhead, and the sound of laughter followed Haley as she stepped outside. The air was slightly brisk, a chill she hadn’t expected, and she found herself pulling her coat a bit closer as she headed down the wooden steps…

  And toward the man who waited near the motorcycle.

  A wide smile curved her lips as she approached Spencer. Seeing him made her happy. And it was crazy and foolish and she should probably have been a million miles away, but the truth was that Haley was tired of running.

  “Hi,” she told him as she stopped close to him.

  “Hi.”

  “Thanks for coming back by. I mean, I appreciate it, and I—” I am rambling. But she was stupid nervous, like she was on a first date or something. And she wasn’t. This wasn’t a date.

  Was it?

  He handed her a helmet. “Got something I want to show you, New York.”

  She took the helmet. Laughed. “Did you just call me New York?”

  “It’s where you’re from, isn’t it? I can hear it in your voice, slipping in and out.”

  He climbed onto the bike, and she slid in place behind him. Her thighs hugged his legs even as her arms wrapped around his stomach. He was warm and strong and, damn, but the man smelled good.

  “What do you miss most about New York?” he asked her.

 
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