Grant pressed his back against the outside wall of the turquoise and white two-story home he and a team of Miami PD officers were about to storm. On the surface the place fit in perfectly into the upper middle class neighborhood. On the inside, however, it was a fully functioning cocaine lab.
He shifted down a few inches, nearing the corner of the wall. They’d received three solid tips—one from one of Grant’s CIs—and had gotten word the lucrative business would be moving in two days. So, they’d had to move fast. As a detective Grant usually didn’t participate in stings like this anymore, but he’d been on SWAT for two years and he still missed the rush. Plus the current SWAT team was outside the First Bank of Miami in a twelve hour stand-off with armed robbers so the department was incredibly short-staffed.
They didn’t have time to waste. Not when these assholes would be setting up shop again and the department had no clue where.
Dressed in black from head to toe, wearing his standard issue Kevlar vest and tactical gear he hadn’t worn in years, he was ready to go. They all were. Holding his M-4 in a practiced grip, adrenaline pumped through him at lightning speeds.
“On the count of three, we go in. Everyone confirm.” The voice of their team leader, Ramirez, sounded in his ear.
There were four total members of the breach team at the front door and four—including Grant—in the back. Any more than eight to do the actual sweep would be too much.
After they all confirmed, Grant waited for the countdown. They also had men covering the windows outside and still others would remain at the front and back doors in case anyone tried to escape. Since Grant had more experience and he had a personal reason for wanting to bring this house down, he was going in the backdoor with three other guys. The windows were all covered with thick, dark blackout curtains so they couldn’t see in but thanks to one of the tips they had a pretty good idea what the layout looked like.
When Ramirez hit three everyone moved like a deadly choreographed force. Grant rounded the corner and raced for the back door, his three teammates behind him. Ramirez shouted “Police!” from the front and Grant kicked in the backdoor with a solid strike of his heel.
Weapon raised, he swept in. Three women wearing nothing but underwear—so they couldn’t steal the product—all screamed and threw their hands in the air. They were just workers and wouldn’t fight back. Not a surprise. If anything they’d probably cut a deal on whoever their boss was.
“On the floor and keep your hands above your head!” Donaldson, one of the guys with him shouted.
As the women complied, Grant keyed his radio, letting everyone know he was moving through the house. He also motioned with his hands for the other two men to fan out as he passed through one of the entryways. The guys coming in from the front needed to be aware of all their movements.
He quickly passed through the kitchen into a dining room and nearly froze at the sight in front of him. A boy with dark curly, almost shaggy hair about six years old sat at a flimsy square folding table with a crayon in his hand and construction paper in front of him. His brown eyes were wide and he was shaking as he stared at Grant.
Pissed that someone had their kid here, Grant held a finger to his mouth and scanned the room, careful to keep his weapon pointed away from the kid. He knew he looked scary as hell dressed in all his tactical gear and carrying a big weapon, but there was nothing he could do about it. No one had even hinted that a child might be here so they weren’t prepared with a social worker once this mess was over. Whoever had brought their kid to this fucking house shouldn’t have been allowed to procreate.
Seeing slight movement behind one of the dark curtains, Grant took a few steps in that direction. Afraid whoever was behind it might try to use the kid as a hostage or just plain hurt the boy, Grant picked up his pace.
As he did, the kid shook his head, eyes widening in panic. “No!”
Confused for a second, Grant frowned until he heard the soft clicking sound. Shit, shit, shit! That sound was unfortunately familiar. He’d trained enough to know exactly what to look for.
Fuckers in these drug houses often set up simple traps. They’d take a rectangular can of black powder with a screw on cap, drill out a hole and place a 209 shotgun primer in it. Once they’d fixed it with a firing pin all they needed was a tripwire.
And he’d just tripped it.
He’d been so focused on the kid he hadn’t paid attention to anything else, especially possible booby traps. Never in his life had he made a mistake like this. It was as if everything around him moved into slow motion at that low sound. Above him he could hear part of the team sweeping the rooms, looking for more guys. He also heard the sound of the window breaking—likely whoever was behind that curtain trying to escape.
But all he could actually concentrate on was the boy and getting him out of the blast zone. Adrenaline shot through Grant with the intensity of a fifty cal. He acted purely on instinct. Slinging the rifle over his shoulder he dove at the kid, using his body as a shield.
A split second later an explosion ripped through the air. Heat tore at his back as he tackled the boy, their bodies skidding across the hardwood floor as the table crumpled under Grant’s weight. Curling around the kid, he cried out in agony as the flames licked over him, searing through flesh and muscle. Then blackness engulfed him.
6 Months later
Grant opened his eyes at the sound of his cell phone buzzing across the nightstand. The insistent hum was going to drive him insane. Grabbing it, he looked at the caller ID then shoved the phone under his pillow.
It was Porter. Again.
He loved his oldest brother—okay, his whole family, but he wished they’d leave him the hell alone. If he decided to take the job at Red Stone Security and work with both his brothers and father he’d do it when he was damn well good and ready.
And not a minute sooner.
He rolled onto his side, ignoring the stiffness in his shoulders. Right now he was just trying to keep it together. After leaving the Miami Police Department he felt lost for the first time in his life. Not something he was used to. Right out of high school he’d joined the Marines just like his big brother had done. Four years later after an honorable discharge he’d joined the Miami PD. His first two years as a rookie he’d gone to night school while working as a patrolman. When he’d made SWAT he’d spent the next two years finishing up with his Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. And for the last two he’d been working as a detective and he loved it.
Well, had loved it.
Now he was on temporary disability and trying to figure out what he was doing with his life. Half a year ago things had been so clear. He’d had his entire life mapped out. Now, not so much.
Forcing himself to get out of bed and to stop the fucking pity party he was about to have, he took a quick shower and didn’t bother looking in the mirror before or after. Seeing his scars only reminded him of what a deformed monster he was. No thanks. He thought about it enough and didn’t need the visual aids.
Making his way to the kitchen he avoided glancing at picture frames dotting his hallway walls or anywhere else. They were all filled with pictures of his happy smiling family. His brother Porter and fiancé Lizzy. Or his brother Harrison and gorgeous wife Mara. Or his brothers, father and Grant, before the accident.
When he’d been a normal guy. Not Hollywood handsome, but good looking enough to get laid on a regular basis. Now…fuck, he hated the bitterness welling up inside him.
He was alive and had a great family. He’d get over it. Just not today. As he started making a pot of coffee he glanced out his kitchen window and into his neighbor’s window and froze.
He had the perfect view of his new neighbor. She was beautiful. Scratch that. The word didn’t even come close to describing her. There’d been moving guys in and out of the two-story house all day yesterday but he’d had no clue who was actually moving in. Holy shit, if that was her he’d probably scare the hell out of her the first time she saw him. Gorgeous women like her did not associate with someone like him. It would only make her self-conscious or worse—pity him.
But she wasn’t even aware of his presence so he could drink in his fill right now. Even if he did feel a little like a peeping Tom.
She didn’t seem very tall, though it was hard to measure. Her dark wavy hair cascaded down over her shoulders, reaching just below her breasts. Very full breasts. Definitely enough to fill his palms. And the tight tank top she was wearing left very little to the imagination. It was obvious she’d just woken up as she rubbed a hand over her face and reached for the coffee pot.
Look away, he ordered himself.
But he was rooted to the spot. There was a lot of natural light shining into her kitchen from the windows at the back of her house. He couldn’t see the other windows from his angle, but he’d been inside the house before his former elderly neighbors moved out, and it was bathing her like she was some sort of goddess.
Yawning, she stretched her arms over her head and showed off a nice expanse of toned, tanned belly and—yep, he was walking away now.
Before he really did turn into some sort of pervert. Time to work out and do his leg exercises and not think about the beauty next door. He’d never walk completely normally again but damned if he wouldn’t get close. After completely blowing his knee out when he’d tackled that kid, he’d since had two surgeries. Now there was nothing more doctors could do. He had pins in his knee and he just had to work on getting used to using all his muscles again. Spending time gawking at his neighbor wasn’t going to do him any good.
A couple hours later he’d worked out his upper body and had spent some serious time on the treadmill. Sure he wasn’t jogging, but he wasn’t slowly walking anymore either. Knowing when he’d pushed himself to the limit he changed into his bathing suit and found relief as he descended the steps to his swimming pool.
Immediately the pressure on his leg eased, giving him that weightless relief. Floating on his back, he savored the way his muscles pulled and stretched as he slowly did the backstroke. It wasn’t quite noon yet, but the sun was high and bright in a cloudless sky. Since it was April there was a cool breeze but spring in Florida was more like early summer than anything. As he glided through the water he paused at the sound of shouting.