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Mac opened the door. “This is a very private club. Mostly former military types. For the retired set, it’s half firing range, half social club.”

Fluorescent lights brightened the reception area.

“Mac! Hannah!” A giant, ridiculously fit man of about sixty vaulted over the counter. The overhead lighting gleamed off his bald head. He slapped Mac on the shoulder. “Hannah practices regularly. Where the hell have you been?”

“Around,” Mac said. “You know I prefer a blade.”

Craig lifted Hannah off her feet with a hug. A wide grin split her face as she returned the embrace.

Mac gestured to Stella. “Craig, this is Stella.” He didn’t provide her last name or occupation, which she appreciated. She wanted to remain low profile.

Her slim hand disappeared in Craig’s as they shook, and she didn’t miss the older man’s quick, approving wink.

Mac put a hand on her back. “Craig served with the Colonel. We’ve been shooting here since we could walk.”

“Maybe before,” Craig said. “I heard the Colonel passed. I’m sorry.”

“Thanks.” Mac studied the cinderblock wall for a few seconds before gesturing with his handgun. “I need to figure out if I can still shoot this thing.”

“I’m sure you can.” Craig crossed his arms. “Not as well as Hannah, but then, she was always my star pupil. If you’d only apply yourself a little more.”

“Story of my life.” Mac laughed.

“Go to it.” Craig waved them toward the door and stepped back. “You have the place to yourselves for now.”

Mac guided Stella into the range. The big room was bare bones: concrete floor, cinderblock walls, wooden partitions.

Craig followed them in, doubled up on ear protection, and leaned against the far wall.

Entering the indoor range, Stella tensed.

Mac put a hand on her arm and leaned close. “None of your cop friends are here. You can relax. Why don’t we hang out and watch Hannah for a while? It’s usually pretty entertaining.” He steered her toward the back wall.

Hannah handed out earplugs, loaded her weapon, and lined up in front of a target. She pulled the trigger. Hannah fired away, emptying her magazine into the paper target. She pressed a button and brought her target in. Seven shots, dead center. She replaced the target and sent it back. “You’re up, Mac.”

Mac gave Stella a questioning look. She nodded.

“Want to make it interesting?” Hannah stepped back. “Maybe a little wager?”

Mac snorted. “Not even tempted. You’ll have to hustle someone else.” He took his time with his shots, and his cluster was more than respectable, but Hannah could practically draw a smiley face.

Several men wandered in. Some lined up at stalls and practiced. Others hung back to watch Hannah, who moved her target back farther and farther. In the next thirty minutes, she accumulated a crowd of admirers, some of whom were now placing side bets or bringing alternative guns for her to try. Hannah kicked butt with everything she touched.

Mac gestured for Stella to take his place.

Though she’d relaxed while watching Hannah, sweat broke out under Stella’s arms and her heart kicked into gear as she stepped toward the stall. She wiped her hands on her jeans, and then unholstered her weapon. She took her stance. Her body stiffened, her arm feeling wooden as she aimed and fired.

“Your hand is drifting as you shoot.” He stepped up behind her, lined his body against hers, and slid one hand along her left arm. His other hand strayed to her hip.

OK. So that was distracting.

Stella glanced back at him. Mac nodded to the target. With his hand steadying her arm, she squeezed the trigger. The air stank of gunpowder, and shots rang on cinderblock as she emptied the magazine. Four shots later, she pulled her target in. The first few shots were left of the human outline, but one by one, each shot moved a few inches to the right.

Mac pointed to two shots in the target’s chest. “Those’ll do.”

Her first decent shots in months! Pleasure flooded her chest as she reloaded and emptied another magazine into the target. Even better. She could do this. Her career wasn’t over.

She flung her arms around Mac’s neck. “Thank you.”

He smiled down at her. “Before today, this wouldn’t have occurred to me as the perfect date.”

“Well, it was. You have no idea how relieved I am.”

A half hour later, Mac, Stella, and Hannah went out into the parking lot. The rain had stopped, but moisture hung in the air.

“I can’t believe it’s actually more humid than before the rain. Thunderstorms are supposed to relieve a heat wave.” Hannah opened her trunk and put her weapon in the gun safe. “That was fun. Thanks for calling me.”

Mac tucked his gun at the small of his back. “I’m going to hold on to mine for a while.”

Hannah kissed his cheek. She tapped her hand on his jaw. “You need to shave.”

Mac laughed. “I shaved once this year. That was more than enough.”

With a roll of her eyes, Hannah left.

“Thank you again. I needed that.” Stella slid her arms around Mac’s neck and kissed him. Mac tapped his temple. “It’s all a head game. All the crazy drills my father made us perform—and the sheer insanity of some of them would make you squirm—did one thing for all of us. They gave us confidence. He taught us that we could do things we never believed possible. He pushed us so far out of our comfort zones, we needed GPS to find our way back.” He reached over and rubbed her shoulder. “You can do it. I just saw you. When do you have to test?”

“Soon.” Relief faded to worry.

“Just remember, when you watch all those guys at the range, that my sister can outshoot all of them. And don’t think she can’t fire in a live action scenario. The Colonel did plenty of live-fire drills with us.”

Stella was horrified. Military recruits died in live-fire drills. Mac and his siblings had been children.

“Oh, yes he did.” Mac nodded.

“That’s crazy.” She shook her head. “They should call Hannah The Gun Whisperer. She’s amazing.”

“She was always that way. We all had our special skills. Grant was our strategist; Hannah the marksman.”

“What about you?”

“I can find my way anywhere.” He scanned the woods around them. “It’s like I have a built-in compass. I can’t explain it.”

“Raised by wolves?” she joked.

“Practically.”

“And Lee?” she asked softly.

Mac sighed. “Lee was awful at everything physical. He was a scholar. The Colonel had no business sending him into survival training drills.”

“How did he get through them?” She imagined a skinny boy, suffering through tasks when his siblings all excelled.

“The rest of us carried him. Lee more than made up for it in adulthood,” Mac said. “He was the touchstone while the rest of us wandered as far away from Scarlet Falls as possible.”

“Sounds like he was lucky to have the three of you.”

“I never really thought about it quite like that, but I guess he was.” Mac was quiet for a few seconds, as if this was a new thought. Then he smiled. “I’m hungry. What do you have planned for the morning?”

“I have to see if forensics could pull prints from that envelope I found under Missy’s closet.” Stella couldn’t imagine the money was Missy’s. So who was she hiding it for?

“Then what?”

“I’m not sure.” She checked the time. Seven-thirty. “I’m supposed to catch up with Brody and Lance at lunchtime. We have to review tips that come in on the hotline. I also have to pick up Gianna from dialysis and take her to the station to sign a statement. What about you?”

“I have an old contact that is very in tune with the local criminal scene,” Mac said.

“And?”

Mac shrugged. “I could take pictures of your suspects and see if anyone in his gang recognizes them. Plus, Freddie knows things.”

“A gang? That doesn’t sound safe.”

He lifted a palm. “Safe is relative. He already knows I’m in town.”

“These are those dangerous associates you talked about before.” Stella poked a finger in his chest. “Don’t think I’m letting you go there alone.”

“I can’t take Grant. He’s too important to the kids. They already lost one father. I won’t put him at risk.”

Discomfort stirred in Stella. “You aren’t any more expendable than your brother.”

“Maybe.”

Did he really think he was less valuable than his siblings?

She propped a hand on her hip. Under her irritation, fear slithered. She felt more for this man than she’d planned, knowing he was likely not going to stick around Scarlet Falls. Mac spent more time in South America than the US. If—when—he left, she would be heartbroken. But she couldn’t bear losing him to a drug dealer’s bullet. He’d gotten lucky in Brazil. How long could his good fortune hold out? “There’s no maybe about it. Your family needs you.”

I need you.

The words in her head stayed there. She wouldn’t guilt him into staying. It had to be his decision, but she wanted him to choose Scarlet Falls.

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