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“That’s so sweet . . . you’re here to save the baby brother.”

“So full of yourself.” Danny’s words no sooner left his mouth than one of the men beside him punched him in it to shut him up.

Mr. Cleft Lip didn’t flinch when blood splattered his three-piece suit.

“Let him go,” Reed told her.

“Now why would I do that?”

“One hostage is all you need.” And if she untied Danny, the guy might stand a chance when the bullets started flying.

“Two is so much better.”

She signaled to the other man beside Danny, who, along with Mr. Cleft Lip, moved in and grasped his hands.

Tied down equaled death . . . and Reed wasn’t prepared to die.

Academy training erupted from the depths of his memory, he twisted his body, brought both hands around to capture the gun, and crashed into the man holding it. At the same time, shots fired from above and below.

The man beside him took a hit, flung back.

Reed had one linear focus.

Danny was a sitting duck at the county carnival, just waiting for someone to take the prize.

Lori’s brother focused just enough to grasp the situation and pushed his chair over with his feet. He hit the floor and Reed swiveled around.

Without a gun directed at his brain, he ducked low, grasped the backup gun from his leg, and moved toward Danny while shots rang out around him.

As he crawled, a bullet split through the leg of the chair, forcing him to look up.

He dodged left, avoided the heel of Cleft Lip’s shoe, and a shot rang out before Reed could swivel his weapon in the man’s direction. When Reed looked up, he saw the shape of a woman in tight, ninja-style black clothing blowing a kiss from the rafters.

Sasha.

Reed rolled out of range, leveled his gun to Cleft Lip’s chest, and froze as a bullet from behind him took the man down.

His pocketknife made quick work of the rope around Danny’s wrists before Reed dragged him behind a stack of boxes for shelter. He was out cold but had a strong pulse. The knock on his head when the chair hit the ground looked like the cause.

Away from the chaos, Reed looked up toward the ceiling. Two men, covered in black from head to toe, ducked in and out of sight.

The woman in charge lay in a river of her own blood, eyes wide and lifeless.

Cleft Lip was down and the other two men who had beat the shit out of Danny were shooting toward the front of the building.

“We need to get out of here,” Reed said to Danny.

A box above them became victim to a spray of bullets. Reed slapped the side of Danny’s face. “Danny, wake up.”

His head rolled on his shoulders.

Reed shoved his shoulder under Danny’s arm and took his weight. “C’mon, man, we need to move.”

It took serious effort, but Danny started moving his feet, even if his head wasn’t in the game. Backing out the way he had come in took Reed from an inside shooting range to an outside shooting range. Two men in suits were backtracking out the front door as they sprayed the inside of the warehouse with their semiautomatic weapons.

Distant sirens filled the air, and the men in suits fled like cockroaches in sunlight.

The screeching of tires and lack of gunfire gave Reed the opportunity to slump beside the building. Pain registered in his left arm. His jacket sported a perfect hole, and warmth ran down the inside. He flexed his bicep and cussed. “Damn it.”

From the corner of his eye, Reed caught movement when a figure walked toward him and tensed. Danny had passed out.

“You okay?” the voice was modulated with a device to mask its identity.

While he couldn’t say for sure, the build of the man talking appeared to be Neil.

“We’re fine.”

Sirens grew closer.

“Go, I’ll handle the police,” Reed said.

The masked man lifted a hand in the air, signaled someone else. “We were never here.”

Reed lifted a thumb in the air, and the man was gone.

Lori paced like a caged animal. Every minute felt like an hour.

By the thirty-minute mark she was wringing her hands, and her stomach was ready to explode.

She watched her cell phone, knowing that when it rang, the woman holding her brother would know the papers weren’t coming. None of this was worth her brother’s life.

None of it.

A cell phone rang, and everyone in the room jumped.

Lori looked at her silent phone.

“Hello?” Sam asked into hers.

She released a sigh that sounded like steam from a power plant. “Okay. Yes . . . I will.”

Sam lifted her chin and slowly smiled. “They’re safe.”

Avery grabbed Lori’s shoulder.

Shannon slumped on the couch.

“Reed is with Danny.”

“Is Danny okay?”

Sam kept smiling. “I know they’re alive.”

Which didn’t mean unhurt.

Lori grabbed her cell and dialed Reed’s number.

She could barely hear him over the sirens.

“Lori?”

“Is Danny okay?” She paused and yelled the question into the phone a second time.

“I can’t hear you. Hold on.”

She heard voices in the line.

“They’re taking him to Memorial. But he’s fine, Lori. Don’t panic.” He hung up.

Lori marched to the door and turned to the others. “C’mon.”

Reed slapped the back of the ambulance carrying Danny to the hospital. The kid’s bells were ringing hard, but he’d recognized him, which gave Reed enough to know he was going to be all right.

Reed’s identification and weapon were on the hood of the commanding officer’s car.

Lights swirled around as over two dozen squad cars and twice as many officers combed over the scene.

Officer Chow picked up each piece of evidence, one at a time, and dropped it to make a point. “Retired PD. Concealed carry permit. Private investigator. Thirty-eight revolver.”

“My nine is somewhere in the building,” Reed reminded the man.

“Right, and you want me to believe that an anonymous call brought you here, where you found your girlfriend’s brother tied up and under the gun of the dead woman in there.”

“Ex-girlfriend. And the woman had at least three men with her that I saw.”

“Right, the dead guy who managed to disarm you and two more that fled.”

“That’s right.”

“And who were the others?”

“I’m telling you what I saw. It was like a fight club, all suits, heavily armed. Shots rang out, she went down, and I didn’t stand around asking questions. By the time I pulled Danny out of the building, I heard you coming, and the place emptied like rats running to freedom.”

“I’m going to need a formal statement.”

“I know the drill, Chow.”

“And I’m holding on to this.” He picked up Reed’s weapon.

“It wasn’t fired.”

“And your nine?”

“Unless someone in there fired off a shot, it wasn’t used either.”

Chow’s gaze dropped to Reed’s arm. “Did you take a hit?”

Considering his left arm was rather numb, he felt safe nodding. He shrugged off his jacket, winced at the pain of his sudden movements.

“Might wanna get that looked at.”

The ambulance had already left. “I can drive myself.”

Chow looked over Reed’s shoulder. “Not unless you have four spare tires.”

Reed cringed before he turned. Someone had decided inflated tires and doors without holes weren’t a good look.

Chow called another officer over while he gathered Reed’s ID and returned it to him. They had a brief conversation before he nodded toward the car. “Get in. I need to ask the other witness some questions, anyway.”

“Ms. Cumberland?”

Lori jumped up from her waiting room chair and followed the nurse into the emergency room.

“How is he?”

“Your brother is fine. We just brought him back from a CAT scan.”

“Is there anything wrong?”

“We don’t have the radiology report yet.” The nurse pushed past a curtain, and Lori stopped in her tracks.

“Oh, Danny.”

“I’m okay.” His face was packed with bloody gauze, a welt up one side of his head, and his eyes were already purple. “It’s better than it looks.”

His smile was so pathetic Lori found herself laughing. “I’m sorry . . .”

“I’m good. Great drugs here.”

She sat beside him and grasped his hand. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Stop. This wasn’t your fault.”

She dropped her head to his hand. “I thought they were going to kill you.”

“Look.” He moved his hand. “Not dead.”

One of the nurses walked in. “I’m going to clean your cuts and redress your nose.”

“Sounds fun,” Danny joked.

“Ma’am, why don’t you step out for a few minutes.”

“Do you want me here, Danny?”

He lifted a swollen eye to her. “So you can feel more guilty? I don’t think so.”

She stepped into the hall and leaned against the wall. She should probably call her parents, let them know what happened.

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