“Do you know where they are?”
“They spread themselves out over a bunch of locations. Dad probably knows more.”
As if on cue, the front door opened, and Freddie stepped out onto the porch. At six feet six, he bore an uncanny resemblance to Hulk Hogan, from his long blond and gray hair to the matching beard. He crossed the distance between them with rapid, anger-driven strides. Stopping in front of Mac, he glared. “What are you doing here?”
“I was just talking to Rafe,” Mac said. His body went tense as aggression radiated from the big man.
Freddie’s weathered face turned grim. “You shouldn’t have come here, Mac.”
“That’s not the welcome I expected.” Sweat broke out at the base of Mac’s spine. Something was wrong.
“I don’t owe you anything.” Freddie leaned over and spat tobacco juice into the dirt.
“What’s wrong, Freddie?” Mac cut to the chase.
Freddie drew a knife from the sheath at his waist. “Rumor has it that you’re a cop.”
“Really?” Mac held his gaze and prayed the river of sweat sliding down his back would be attributed to the heat.
“You were spotted riding along with a woman cop.” Freddie’s eyes dared him to deny it. “Where is she?”
“I came alone.” Mac would die before he led an angry Freddie to Stella.
“What’s the deal with the cop?” Freddie asked.
Mac considered a lie, but Freddie’s bullshit meter was prime. “Two women were abducted, tortured, and killed. I want to find the bastard who did it.”
Freddie tapped the flat side of his knife on his palm. “Wasn’t anyone here.”
“I didn’t think that for a minute.” Mac nodded. “But you know what goes on in this town. This killer is using heroin as his murder weapon.”
“I don’t work with cops. You’re awfully cozy with them lately.” Freddie’s thumb slid along the edge of his blade. “You’re right. I do know what goes on in this town.”
“Dad, this is Mac.” Rafe stepped forward. “He’s not a cop.”
Mac swallowed, his throat arid.
But Freddie didn’t take his gaze off Mac. “Do we look like fucking police informants?” Freddie gestured with the knife. “Why are you really here? Are you setting us up?”
Rafe put a hand on his father’s shoulder. “Mac wouldn’t do that.”
Rafe’s faith in him stirred up old feelings. They’d been close. They’d been arrested together, and Lee had gotten them off without charges. Mac had once saved Rafe’s life. But Freddie would make no exceptions. None. Sure, Mac had run with Rafe in his youth, but Freddie was a hard man. Anyone who crossed him ended up at the bottom of a lake tied to cinderblocks.
That’s how he kept a tight rein on the violent men he led.
“People change, Rafe,” Freddie said.
They did indeed.
Did Freddie know that Rabbit was gone? If he didn’t, Mac certainly wasn’t going to bring up the subject.
“I’m sorry I bothered you.” Mac eased backward.
Freddie flipped the knife into a reverse grip. Mac used his peripheral vision to track the other men in the group. He didn’t recognize any of them. But working for Freddie warranted hazardous duty pay. Membership turned over frequently.
The knife rose into a pre-strike position in front of Mac’s chest.
How long had he been gone?
If he didn’t turn up, Stella would go for help. But what did it matter? By the time she returned with backup, Mac would be dead.
There was no way he was going to talk his way out of this. Nor could he possibly fight off a dozen well-trained, heavily armed men. His heart stammered. A few years ago, the prospect of dying wouldn’t have bothered him that much, but now everything was different. Grant, Hannah, the kids . . .
A red dot appeared in the center of Freddie’s chest. He froze. “Looks like you didn’t come alone after all.”
All eyes tracked the laser scope’s trajectory. Something glinted at the top of the fire tower.
“You’ll be the first man down,” Mac said to Freddie. Smart girl. She’d picked out the leader from a hundred yards away.
Freddie lowered his knife and took a step back. The red dot followed him. “I suggest you leave town.” Or Freddie’s men would find him, and they would kill him. “You have family here. I’d hate for anything to happen to them.”
The threat to Mac’s family turned fear to fury. This wasn’t over. He backed out of the clearing. Thunder cracked, and lightning streaked across the sky as the storm broke. Once he was out of sight, he turned and sprinted for the car. The downpour soaked his clothes in seconds. Stella was climbing down the tower, her rifle slung across her back. She slipped on a wet rung, recovered, and finished her descent. He jumped into the car and started the engine. As soon as she slid into the passenger seat, he sped away as fast as the rutted lane would allow.
“That was quick thinking.” He steered the sedan around a deep hole in the road. “I’m impressed.” Stella was awesome.
“I added the laser scope after the last shooting, and I told you I wasn’t letting you go in there alone.” She brushed water from her eyes and pulled out her phone. Her hair was plastered to her head. “No signal.”
“You know what?” He couldn’t control the crazy grin that spread across his face. “My father would have loved you.”
Rain poured onto the windshield as Mac gave her a brief summary of his conversation with Freddie. The tires slid on a patch of mud, and Mac slowed the car.
“What will you do?” Stella asked. “Leave town?” Even though Mac hadn’t intended to stay, he certainly wasn’t leaving Scarlet Falls with his family on Freddie’s radar. Having that knife in his face had given him a crash course in what was important in his life. Grant, Hannah, the kids . . .
Freddie’s quick turn on Mac had also taught him that the loyalty between them only went one way, and was therefore, null and void. Freddie hadn’t been there for Mac as a teen, he’d used him. Whatever bond had existed between Mac and Rafe was just as twisted. After all, Mac owed his time in rehab to Rafe.
“No. I’m not running. I’ll have to deal with the gang. I should have done it years ago, but it was easier to go fight drugs in a different country than face a hard decision at home.” But no more. Freddie’s operation was going down.
He turned onto the paved road. The car rocked in a gust of wind, and the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the deluge.
Stella turned and peered behind them. “I see headlights.”
Real terror streaked up Mac’s spine. He couldn’t let Freddie and his crew get their hands on Stella. She was a cop, and they’d know it in seconds. He pressed harder on the gas pedal, but off-road, the Honda couldn’t outpace one of the gang’s monster SUVs, especially not in this storm.
Stella squinted through the windshield. “I don’t know how you can see the road.”
He could see well enough to know that water was rising under the car.
“The road is flooding. We need to find higher ground.” His gaze went to the rearview mirror. “I can’t see if that’s one of Freddie’s SUVs behind us, but I can’t take the chance.” He glanced at her. “If they catch us, we’re dead.”
A bridge loomed ahead. On the other side, the road inclined, but water covered the surface. Could they make it? He glanced in the side mirror. The headlights were closer. They had to try. Mac gunned the engine.
The car was halfway across the bridge when the vehicle began to drift sideways.
“Hold on!” The wheel was loose in Mac’s hands. He held his breath. The tires of the Honda gripped the road again, and the car chugged onto the road on the other side. Behind them, water washed over the bridge.
Stella pressed a hand to the center of her chest. “That was close.”
“We made it.” Mac checked the rearview mirror. The river undulated behind them like a fat greedy snake. “There’s no way Freddie’s men got across. I think we’re safe.”
Mac checked his phone. Still no cell reception. Grant and Hannah had to be warned, and Mac would have to deal with Freddie.
Stella bent forward and put her head between her knees.
“Are you all right?”
“Yes. Sometimes an adrenaline crash makes me throw up. You might need to pull over. Thankfully, I usually wait until after a high stress situation is over to get sick.” Stella’s voice was tight.
“Better than during,” Mac said. “Seriously, you were great. You really saved my butt back there. You can watch my six anytime.”
She pressed a hand to her mouth. “Even if I throw up afterward?”
“Breathe through it. You’ll be all right.” Mac reached over and rubbed her back. She needed a distraction. “I’ve hurled a time or two. Have I ever told you about my childhood?”
She shook her head. “Not much.”
“The Colonel put us through training exercises.” Mac slowed the car now that the bridge was behind them. “We learned hand-to-hand, how to handle weapons, and advanced survival training.”
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