To choose her.
He stepped back, out of reach. “I’m used to working alone.”
“Get unused to it.” Stella headed for the car. “I’m going with you.”
“Like hell.” Mac grabbed Stella’s shoulder and spun her around. He would not put her at risk. “Freddie will smell cop on you in a second.”
Her chin went up and her eyes blazed. “I’m dressed down.”
He skimmed her jeans, T-shirt, and running shoes. Her black hair fell in waves past her shoulders. She didn’t need the pistol, badge, or handcuffs. She wore cop like a uniform. “It’s not the clothes.” It was her eyes. They were flat and sharp, not missing a thing. “It’s too dangerous.”
“You’re kidding, right.” She folded her arms over her chest.
“No.” Mac swallowed. “I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“I appreciate the chivalry, but it’s not necessary.”
“This has nothing to do with chivalry.” He closed the gap between them. “I’ve been attracted to you since the first second we met, but what I’m feeling for you now is more than I’d expected. This wasn’t what I planned.” The deep connection he felt with Stella both excited and scared him.
He kissed her hard on the mouth, and the stunned expression on her face said she hadn’t expected what was developing between them either.
She blinked, surprise shifting to stubbornness. “I feel the same way, which is why I won’t let you go alone.”
He put a hand to the back of his skull where tension throbbed.
She cupped his cheek. “This isn’t a one-way street. You don’t get to care about other people and not let them feel the same about you.”
She pressed her fingertips to his lips. “Either you let me go with you, or I’ll call your brother. Putting yourself into an unnecessarily dangerous position isn’t fair to me or to Grant or Hannah. You matter.”
“Grant isn’t getting dragged into this.” Mac wouldn’t allow any danger to touch his family.
“I wasn’t suggesting Grant take my place. But he’d be able to talk you out of whatever you’re planning.” Her eyes locked on his. “I’m going with you.”
Mac had a choice. He could skip the whole visit with Freddie. He and Stella could continue to follow leads through official channels. But if he had the chance to prevent another girl from being hurt, how could he not try? Once he learned Rabbit had bolted, Freddie would pay Mac a visit. Next time maybe he wouldn’t spot the tail. Maybe he wouldn’t be prepared. The thought of Freddie’s gang showing up at his cabin—or worse, at Grant’s house—gave him the shakes. A confrontation was inevitable, and Mac would rather be the initiator.
He could lie to Stella and go alone anyway. But that felt wrong in a thousand ways.
“You’ll stay in the car.” He glanced at her cruiser. “Not that car. We’ll have to rent one.”
“We can use my Honda.”
“All right.” Mac raised his hand to his face and covered her fingers. “But you have to promise to do what I say.”
The cocky lift to her brow shouldn’t have turned him on, but then everything about this woman cranked his testosterone into overdrive.
“Unless you’re in danger,” she said.
“That’s not an answer.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“OK.” But Mac wasn’t happy with her refusal to commit.
“Where is this friend of yours?”
“He used to operate out of the rail yard, but that location got too popular with the homeless. He’s under the power lines by Hidden Lake.”
“I’ve never been there.” Stella opened her phone and pulled up a map of the area.
Mac manipulated the image and pointed at a patch of green. “It’s here.”
“Where?” Stella squinted at the display.
“It’s called Hidden Lake for a reason.”
Stella opened her car door. “Let’s change cars and get out there. I want to be back by lunchtime.”
In the driveway, they parked her police vehicle, and Stella locked her purse and badge in the trunk. She transferred her AR-15 to the Accord. “Just in case.”
“Don’t let anyone see that.” Mac wasn’t planning for Freddie to ever set eyes on her. “It will only cause trouble. There’s no shooting your way out of that gang. You’ll be ridiculously outgunned, and they have enough ammunition to turn your car into a colander.” Tension clamped down on the nape of his neck. “Maybe we should forget this whole plan.”
Stella tucked her long hair behind her ear. “I need some evidence to tie Noah Spivak to the murders, or he’s going to get bail. I’m not entirely convinced he killed Missy and Dena, but I don’t want him on the street.”
“All right.” He held out a hand. “Why don’t you let me drive? I know where we’re going.”
She handed him the keys, and Mac got behind the wheel. He shifted to grab the seat belt. Something poked him in the leg. He reached under and found one of Stella’s hairpins. “Do you shed these things?”
“Sorry. They’re always falling out.”
She reached for it, but he closed his fist around it. “I’ll hold on to it. For good luck.” He tucked it into his pocket.
“No doubt.” But the pin reminded him of their night together, and what Stella looked like when she let her hair down.
A half hour later they bounced along a dirt road. Mac hadn’t been out to Hidden Lake in years, but he remembered the basic terrain. He stopped the car next to a fire tower, nosing the vehicle behind a patch of shrubs for concealment. Fifty feet ahead, a metal gate blocked the road. An electrified fence prevented him from walking around. “You can wait here. There’s a clearing around the bend. I’ll walk into camp.”
Overhead, the sky teemed with heavy clouds, and the wind whipped with an approaching storm.
Stella scanned the area. Her lips pursed. “I can’t see anything, and cell coverage is weak out here. How will I know if you need me?”
“If I’m not back in thirty minutes, call for backup.” He kissed her and got out of the vehicle. “It’ll be fine. I know Freddie.”
But Mac didn’t feel as confident as his words sounded as he slipped through the gate and set off down the dirt road. The gate was probably rigged with an alarm that went off in the camp. They would know someone was coming.
Usually being in the woods calmed him. But electricity hummed in the air, and adrenaline buzzed in Mac’s veins. He’d left Stella at the fire tower because he wasn’t sure how Freddie was going to receive him. The last time they’d connected, Freddie had owed him. But that debt had been paid. Now they were even.
He paused at the edge of the clearing. This early in the morning, most of Freddie’s men would be sleeping. Their clients tended to be night people. But Mac had no doubt guards were on duty. His shoulder blades itched. Eyes were on him. No question.
A sturdy cabin and several sheds occupied the clearing. Behind the buildings, the approaching storm whipped the lake’s surface into tiny whitecaps. Three mammoth SUVs were lined up in front of the cabin.
All looked suspiciously like the one that had followed him.
Mac stepped out of the shadows.
“Stop.” A man in cargo pants and a muscle tank looked comfortable with the assault rifle pointed at Mac’s chest.
He raised his hands. “I’m not armed. I know Freddie.”
The man jerked the barrel toward the cabin. “We’ll see about that.”
A second man stepped out from behind a huge oak tree. He gave Mac a cursory pat down. Mac knew better than to bring a handgun into the camp, but he’d hidden the Colonel’s KA-BAR in his boot. It wasn’t as accessible as he’d like, but they’d have to look hard to find it.
A half dozen men emerged from the cabin and sheds to congregate on the pine needle carpet. Freddie’s son, Rafe, stood a head taller than the others. Despite the heat, he was dressed in slim, European-cut jeans and a tailored black shirt. His blond hair was tied off his chiseled face.
Mac caught his gaze. Once, Rafe had been his closest friend. “I see you’re still dressing like a fancy-pants.”
“And I see you still need a new wardrobe.” Rafe took two steps and gave Mac a shoulder-slapping hug. Rafe’s face went serious. “What brings you here, Mac?”
“I came to ask you a favor.”
Looping an arm over Mac’s shoulders, Rafe steered him away from the other men. He lowered his voice. “What do you need?”
Mac pointed to his pocket, then slowly withdrew the two pictures. “Do either of these men look familiar?”
Rafe barely looked at Adam Miller’s photo. “Never seen him before.” He touched Noah Spivak’s mug shot with the tip of his finger. “This one is a crazy motherfucker. He’s with that white supremacy militia group, WSA.”
“White Survival Alliance. They’re preparing for an invasion or some shit.”
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