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Protect & Serve(7)

By:Nikki Wild

“This is my home,” he said as if I’d somehow forgotten. “But I’m not going to pretend like Wallace’s men don’t scare me, because they do. I’m not the fighter type. I guess you’d call me more of a lover.”

Although he wasn’t facing me, I distinctly detected the smirk in his tone when he said that last bit. A moment later, he cast a glance at me over his shoulder as if to confirm I understood what he was implying. I shook my head, and he continued:

“But that being said, I’m not about to let some IRA rejects run me out of my home. There are some things a man just can’t abide, and for me, turning tail and running is one of them. So if we’re going to do this, detective, then we’re going to do it my way. The city can spare some officers to guard my home, I’m sure, and if not, there’s always private security—”

I held up my hand, signaling for him to stop talking. He frowned and opened his mouth to speak again, but I gestured more firmly this time, settling my gaze on the floor as I listened hard to the silent, empty house.

It wasn’t so silent anymore. There were footsteps downstairs, heavy and deliberate. I closed my eyes and focused, trying to ascertain how many there were.

Two… three… four… five…

There were five men downstairs. I was sure of it. I finally looked back up at Nathan and whispered:

“Were you expecting any company?”

He shook his head, flattening his lips into a thin, grim line as I stood and slipped my sidearm out of its holster.

“I didn’t call for backup,” I told him.

Then, holding up my hand again to signal Nathan to wait, I readied myself for the worst and approached the study doors.

I listened carefully. I could hear them talking on the first floor. They all seemed to still be centered in the atrium. I wet my lips, surrendering to the pulse of adrenaline coursing through my veins.

I hadn’t come here prepared for a fight. Not a firefight, anyway. But that was the thing about being a cop: whether you knew it or not, your life was always on the line.

Stay, I mouthed to Nathan, hoping to get my point across. I couldn’t have him in the crossfire. If things went south, then it was best he was out of harm’s way. I might need a clear shot.

He sipped his whiskey like the sounds downstairs were nothing, but I could see his hand was shaking. His emerald eyes stayed trained on me as I quietly opened the door and slipped out into the hall.

Outside of the study, I could hear their voices much more clearly. They weren’t being subtle in the least. Were they hoping to flush Nathan out?

If so, that probably meant they’d come prepared to subdue him. I hoped to God that they hadn’t considered the possibility that Nathan owned a gun.

There was a lilting brogue that might have been charming under any other circumstances coming from the stairs. “Oi, make sure you get the rugs and the drapes. Don’t leave any room untouched.” I took that to mean he was the leader, and most likely the one I should be speaking with.

Nathan’s mansion wasn’t exactly easy to get to. Though it was still within the city limits, it toed the line. It’d take backup ten, fifteen minutes to get out here in full force. I didn’t have that kind of time. I’d have to negotiate.

I stopped at the end of the hall leading to the rail. Through it, I could see the man on the stairs. He was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans with a pair of scuffed-up work boots, but I didn’t see any weapons on him.

As I surveyed the rest of his crew, I didn’t spot any on them, either. That was good. That meant that these were just thugs hired to beat a little sense into Nathan.

Or, judging by the gas cans they were carrying, burn down his house.

Maybe both.

I came around the corner fast, gun drawn, and aimed at the one on the stairs, their blue-eyed leader with a pathetically stereotypical Celtic band tattooed on his bicep.

“Police,” I said, breathing evenly to steady my gun. It was easy to let nerves and adrenaline get the better of you, no matter how experienced you were. “Drop the gas. Now.”

The other four paused, glancing at their ringleader, who regarded me with one of the coldest stares I’d ever suffered. Then he shrugged his massive shoulders and set the can down on the stair beside him, holding up his hands, his palms facing out.

“We don’t want any trouble, miss,” he said, his voice low and gravelly and filled with dark promises. Despite his hulking frame, there was something distinctly serpentine about him. “Just came to have a little chat with Mr. Hale, is all.” He looked past me and down the hall. “Is he in?”

I narrowed my eyes. “I’m Detective Williams,” I replied. I wasn’t about to give up any more information than I had to. “And you’re trespassing on private property.”