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Authors: Jessica Andersen

Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Love Stories, #Colorado, #Police, #Romantic Suspense Fiction, #Suspense, #Policewomen

Rapid Fire (7 page)

BOOK: Rapid Fire
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Parry sat
silent for a moment, and his eyes flicked to Thorne and back to her, passing a
silent message she couldn’t interpret, one that set her nerves to a razor’s edge.
Then the chief said, “Look, Cooper, I know this hasn’t been easy for you, but
you’re not helping yourself one bit with these antics.”

 

A nasty
disquiet twisted in her stomach. “I’m not sure I’m following you.”

 

The chief
scowled. “What were you doing at the Chuckwagon Ranch?”

 

Knowing
he was going to be ticked, Maya shifted in her chair. “When I was checking on
connections between the State Park and the Natural History Museum, I found that
Wexton Henkes is on both boards. Turns out he’s also a major underwriter of the
college hockey rink and owns most of the Chuckwagon Ranch.” She paused, aware
that the chief’s face was rapidly purpling. “I thought I’d check the place out
for myself.”

 

“And
nearly got yourself killed, along with an innocent child,” Thorne said. His
voice was quiet, but loaded with condemnation. “You didn’t think to bring this
to Chief Parry? To your friends in the Forensics Department? You thought going
Lone Ranger was a good idea? What if you’d gotten yourself—”

 

“It was a
fishing expedition,” she interrupted without turning toward him. “I never
expected Henkes to come after me like that. If I had just—”

 

“Enough!”
Parry slapped his desk hard enough to make the papers jump. “I’ve had enough of
you persecuting Henkes. First the child abuse thing and now this? I won’t hear
of it.” He made a short, vicious chopping motion with his hand. “It’s over, do
you hear me? We both know you haven’t got any evidence. You’ve got theories and
your own personal bias. I don’t know what you’ve got against Henkes and
frankly, I don’t care. I just want you to leave him alone. Hell, I want you to
leave the case alone.” He fixed her with a look. “That’s an order.”

 

And if I
disobey? Maya almost asked. If she wasn’t on the force—at least
temporarily—then he couldn’t give her orders, could he?

 

But the
temporarily part was the sticking point, she knew. If she wanted her job back,
she’d have to play along.

 

As though
he’d guessed her thoughts, the chief scowled. “Don’t cross me on this one,
Cooper. Not unless you want the IA investigation to drag on indefinitely.” He
waited a beat as though he expected her to argue. When she didn’t, his
expression relaxed. “Fine. As long as we’re clear on that.” He waved her out.
“That’s all.”

 

Thorne
eased away from the door and pushed it open for her, but when he moved to
follow, the chief called him back. As the glass panel closed at Maya’s back,
she found twenty faces staring at her with expressions ranging from curiosity
to distrust. She glared back, telling herself to show a strong front, but
inside she was cringing.

 

How had
it come to this? She had moved to Bear Claw full of excitement about starting a
new life, a new department with her friends, working under a police chief who
had the reputation of being tough but fair. Now look at her—suspended,
distrusted, disgusted…

 

She
nearly let out a whimper. She wanted to escape to the basement, to the quiet
corner of the downstairs office where she kept her desk and her things.

 

Only it
wasn’t her desk anymore. For the time being, it was Thorne’s.

 

And
later? Who knew.

 

So she
turned for the back exit, only to hear the door open and the chief’s voice say,
“Cooper!”

 

She
turned, feeling the sting of not being “Officer” anymore. “Yes?”

 

Parry’s
expression was blank, his voice carried across the room when he said, “Wait by
the door. I’ll have an officer escort you home. Until further notice, I want
you to take all possible precautions. The bomb threat and the stampede indicate
that our Mastermind has targeted you.”

 

He could
have said any of that in private. That he’d chosen to broadcast the information
across the packed main room, meant one of two things in Maya’s book. Either he
wanted to warn the other officers to look out for her, or he’d meant to remind
them that she was a civilian.

 

She had
to assume the latter.

 

Feeling
the familiar mix of anger and frustration that had dogged her ever since she
woke up in a hospital bed with no memory of attacking Henkes, Maya spun for the
door. She wanted to push straight through, but she waited as ordered.

 

She
wasn’t an idiot. She knew what the incidents at the ranch meant. She’d been
targeted by a killer, just as Cassie and Alissa had been before her.

 

Only the
difference was that she knew who was after her.

 

Wexton
Henkes. Philanthropist. Child abuser.

 

Their
Mastermind. She was sure of it. But how could she convince the others?

 

“Come
on,” Thorne’s voice said behind her, startling her. “I’ll follow you.” He
didn’t wait for her, instead pushing past, out of the PD toward the parking
lot.

 

Maya followed
slowly. “Shouldn’t you sit in on the task force meeting?”

 

“The
chief will fill me in later.”

 

As she
climbed into her hatchback and started the engine, Maya tried not to let it
bother her that the other cops were filing into the conference room at that
very moment. Cassie would sit in the corner of the room where the three of them
had always sat, alone most likely, because Alissa would be downstairs working
with the little girl, Hannah, trying to develop a sketch of the ranch man who’d
taken her from her mother and restrained her in the petting zoo as bait.

 

But bait
for whom? Maya wondered as she pulled out of the PD, aware of Thorne following
too close behind. The Mastermind would have no reason to assume she would go
after the child—any of the other cops would have done the same. So it stood to
reason that the phone call had been aimed at her, but the stampede had been
targeted at the Bear Claw cops in general.

 

But to
what end?

 

After a
short drive, Maya pulled into the underground garage beneath the ultra-modern
building in the heart of downtown Bear Claw that she called home. She’d bought
the condo with the last of the settlement money she’d received in her long-ago
divorce, and considered the two-bedroom, split-level home way better than Dane Arkent’s
memory deserved.

 

Then
again, she hadn’t been worth much back then, either. She’d been young and
stupid when she married Dane. She’d been a hard partier who’d fought constantly
with her conservative parents and had seen the older man, a professional
journalist, as her ticket out of small-town boredom. The fact that he’d partied
just as hard, if not harder, was a bonus. Or maybe it had been the attraction,
she wasn’t sure anymore.

 

Hell, it
didn’t matter now. She’d gotten out of the relationship, and she’d made herself
into a better, stronger person.

 

Or so she
told herself. But the words rang faintly false when Thorne’s bootfalls echoed
against the cement of the parking garage and her heart skittered, skipping a
beat in her chest at the sight of his wide shoulders and the lean lethality of
his body.

 

He had
been an angry, banged-up cop with a layer of whiskey flab when she’d known him
before.

 

Now,
wearing a shoulder holster he must have donned in the car, he looked every inch
the lean, deadly warrior. But as Maya felt a traitorous quiver of warmth in her
midsection, she reminded herself that looks could be deceiving. Just because
he’d changed on the outside didn’t mean he’d changed his basic personality, his
basic drives. Everything she’d seen of him so far—from the expensive clothes
and the snazzy shades to the faint hint of danger he wore like a
cloak—indicated he was the same Thorne she’d known in High Top Bluff.

 

The same
Thorne she’d run from because she’d needed to pull herself back together and knew
damn sure she wouldn’t manage it if he were near, acting as the human
embodiment of her temptation.

 

She held
up a hand when he drew near. “Thanks for following me, but you don’t have to
come up. The doors are key-coded.”

 

“The
Mastermind—whoever he is—has already proven himself smart enough to tap dance
around key codes,” Thorne said bluntly. “I’m coming up.”

 

“Suit
yourself.” Maya tried to keep the resentment out of her voice, but those three
words—whoever he is—said it as clear as day. Thorne didn’t believe that Wexton
Henkes could be the Mastermind. The chief hadn’t believed it either. Hell,
nobody in Bear Claw wanted to believe the worst of Henkes. They wanted to see
the philanthropist. The soon-to-be congressman.

 

They
didn’t want to see what she saw.

 

The
elevator ride was uncomfortable. The small space was too warm, as though the
air conditioners were off. Colorado was far cooler than South Carolina, where
her parents had tried to raise her with Sunday School and strictness, but there
was still enough summer heat to prickle a fine film of sweat on the back of her
neck, beneath her suddenly heavy-feeling hair.

 

“This
way,” she said, gesturing unnecessarily to one of the two doors off the
elevator lobby on the fifth floor, her floor. Her tongue felt glued to the roof
of her mouth, as though she’d invited him home for another, more intimate
purpose than checking her closets for an intruder.

 

She
fumbled for the lock, got it open on the second try, and let him through first.
He pulled his service piece out of the shoulder holster and slipped the safety
off. Instead of reassuring her, the sight of the weapon brought a sting of
resentment.

 

One of
the detectives had collected her gun as evidence, and the chief had suspended
her permit to carry along with her badge.

 

He’d left
her defenseless, then sent Thorne to protect her. There was a certain irony to
that. Maya figured she might even find it amusing in a few months, once the
Mastermind was caught, IA cleared her to return to the force and Thorne went
back to wherever he’d come from.

 

In other
words, once life was back to normal.

 

Thorne
prowled the first floor, from the kitchen to the sitting area and the bath,
then up the stairs to her master bedroom, office and spare room. She tried to
remember whether she’d made the bed that morning, then told herself it didn’t
matter worth a damn. She wasn’t trying to impress anyone.

 

“All
clear,” he reported minutes later as he descended the stairs, reholstering his
weapon as he walked.

 

“You
should get back to the meeting, then.” She held the door open in invitation,
but he stood his ground, measuring her with his mismatched eyes.

 

“I’d like
to get your input on this,” he said finally. “Your notes tell me that you’ve
got insight into this guy, and what happened today proves that he’s set his
sights on you.”

 

She
frowned, immediately on the defensive. “Why the turnaround? Not twenty minutes
ago, the chief ordered me to stay the hell away from the case. Now you’re
inviting me back on? It doesn’t wash.”

 

Besides,
as much as she wanted to be back in, as much as she longed for the teamwork and
the sense of belonging, she didn’t want to work with Thorne.

 

That
would be a bad idea. A really, really bad idea.

 

“I’m not
asking you to be a formal member of the team, or even a civilian consultant,”
Thorne said slowly, as though he was testing out the concept for himself.
“However, I’d like to be kept in the loop if you’re going off on your own, and
I’d like the opportunity to run things by you when I have a question.”

 

But he
wouldn’t meet her eyes, and his tense shoulders and jaw screamed of reluctance.
He didn’t want to work with her. Ergo, he’d been ordered to extend the offer,
and it didn’t take a genius to figure who or why.

BOOK: Rapid Fire
2.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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