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By the time he helped her from the tub, the bleeding on her leg had slowed. Mac wrapped her in a thick towel. Drying the wound, he closed it with a butterfly bandage, applied antibacterial ointment, and wrapped her ankle in gauze.

“I’m impressed. Let me guess, the Colonel trained you as a medic.”

“Basic emergency first aid is crucial for any survival training.” Mac closed the first aid kit. “How does that feel?”

“It hurts, but I’ll live.”

Mac scooped her into his arms.

“I can walk.”

“I know.” He carried her to the bed. Laying her down, he stretched out next to her.

“I have to go back to the station.” She nestled her head onto his shoulder. “Chief Horner will be freaking out.”

“He can freak out for a few minutes.” He wrapped his arm around her body and pulled her close. He wanted full body contact, to feel the beat of her heart, the rise and fall of her chest, to know that she was alive. “I need to hold you. Is that OK?”

She draped her arm across his chest and wiggled closer, her legs moving as if restless.

Mac stroked her arm. “Is something wrong?”

“You confuse me.” She lifted her head.

Mac’s blue eyes worried. “In what way?”

“I’m an independent woman. I’m a police detective raised by a police detective. I’m trained in hand-to-hand and weapons. But when I lay here with you I feel safe, and I like it.”

“That works for me.” A slow smile spread across his face. He thumped the center of his chest. “Because Me Tarzan.”

“I’m serious.” She rolled onto her side and rested her chin on his belly. “What is wrong with me?”

Mac’s face went serious. “It’s eleven-thirty at night. You’ve had a hell of a day. You shouldn’t be going back to work. You should be on admin leave until you’ve had a nice long session with the department shrink and a few weeks to decompress.”

“I have to find Gianna. I have to stop him from hurting another girl.”

“I know.” He stroked her hair. “You’re tired, and maybe deep down you know I’d keep you safe while you slept.” He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles. “I would. I’d watch over you. I’d kill for you.” His pulse thickened. “I’d die for you.”

Especially kill. Mac wanted to find the man who’d shot at her and slowly squeeze the breath from his throat.

She slid up on the bed until their faces were inches apart. “I’d do the same for you. It’s a little scary.”

No kidding. “For me, too.”

“I’ve never felt this way about anyone before, except for my family.”

Mac nodded. “Same here.”

“So what do we do about it?” she asked.

Mac leaned forward and kissed her, a gentle and tender caress of his mouth on hers. His lips brushed her cheek. “I don’t know. First time for me.”

“Me, too.” Stella’s phone rang from the kitchen. Hooking her towel around her breasts, she went to get it and brought it back into the bedroom.

Mac could hear a male voice. “We narrowed the list of Spivak’s pals down to the most likely candidate. Cyrus O’Neil. He lives on a farm on County Line Road, and he’s also a member of the White Survival Alliance. We’ve had some complaints over noise and odors on the property, and one of the neighbors says they saw Spivak on the property. I’m going over there to see what’s what as soon as the search warrant is signed. You want to come?”

Stella straightened. “I’m in.”

“Meet me at the station in thirty.”

“OK.” She turned to Mac. “Did you hear all that?”

“I did.” And he’d hated every word. Mac wanted to be the one raiding a farmhouse instead of Stella. But he respected her enough to let her do her job. “Maybe Gianna will be there.”

“Maybe.”

“No chance I could go with you?”

“None. Sorry.” She was off the bed and looking for clothes.

He took a clean T-shirt from his drawer. “You don’t want to put the blood-stained shirt back on.”

She tugged the T-shirt over her head, then went into the bathroom where her slacks were still puddled on the tile.

Mac caught her around the waist. He drew her close, pressing his body to hers from thigh to chest. She was warm and soft. He wanted to tug her back to bed and keep her there all night. “Back to what we were talking about before your call.” He tucked a long hair behind her ear. “The first thing we have to do is stay safe.”

She placed a hand over the center of his heart. Seemed appropriate. She owned it. He knew that now. There was no point in analyzing anything. He was a hundred feet over his head in love with her. But now wasn’t the time to profess anything. He didn’t want Stella distracted tonight. He held her face and kissed her hard. “Be careful.”

“I will.” She cupped his cheek and touched her mouth tenderly to his lips. Pressing her forehead to his, she said, “I’m not concerned about me.”

“I know. That’s why I’m worried.”

Stella would do whatever it took to rescue her friend. “Gianna’s in the hands of a killer. She doesn’t have much time. I have to find her.”

He kissed her again, just a slow press of his lips. When he lifted his head, fear tumbled though him like a boulder down a slope. “Be careful. Wear your vest.”

“I need to ask you a favor.”

“Anything.”

“Would you go to my house and stay there? We’ll be shorthanded tonight. If the uniform on duty gets a call, they’ll be alone. I’d feel much better if you were there to protect my family.”

“I need to return your grandfather’s car anyway,” Mac said, though he’d rather be with her than babysitting her family. “I’ll drop you at the hospital to get your vehicle. We can call Art on the way.”

His heart clenched. As much as he respected her abilities, he’d never adjust to watching her walk into dangerous situations.

Chapter Thirty-Six

The farm was in the middle of nowhere, the closest neighbor two miles down the road. A woman could scream her lungs out and no one would hear her.

A driving sheet of rain hit the windshield as they parked. Sweat dripped under Stella’s body armor and rain jacket.

Stella said a silent prayer that Gianna or Janelle or whomever had been abducted was still alive, and that they’d find her before it was too late. Darkness shrouded the O’Neil farm. The driveway was a lopsided spot of mud. She parked next to two black-and-whites.

Patrol Officer Carl Ripton greeted her. Rain poured off the brim of his campaign hat.

“Where’s Lance?” Stella looked over his shoulder at the small group of officers behind him.

“Quit.”

“What?”

“He walked into the chief’s office and quit.” Carl checked his weapon.

“Damn.” Even though she knew Lance had been having trouble adjusting to his return to work, she’d never expected him to quit when she needed him. He had the case in his head. With him gone and Brody wounded, that left Stella and Horner.

“Yeah. Bad timing.” Carl waved toward the house. “Shall we?”

She breathed and scanned the surroundings. The house sat on the right, with a large barn and several smaller outbuildings scattered around the yard. Junk, including the carcass of a rusting convertible and a rotted mattress, dotted the weedy grounds.

“More of a junkyard than a farm,” she said.

Carl tugged the brim of his hat lower. “Ready?”

“Ready.” Nerves dried her mouth, and when she swallowed, it felt like burrs moving down her throat.

They crossed the yard. Her SFPD cap shielded her eyes from the downpour as she crept up the wooden porch steps. They approached the front door, the buzz of adrenaline deafening. The house was two stories of peeling white paint. She glanced at Carl. His hand was poised next to his weapon as he motioned two uniforms around the house to cover the rear exit in case anyone inside decided to bolt. The situation was eerily like the one in November. And with the shooting of Brody so fresh, visions of Brody and Lance, bleeding and pale, flashed through Stella’s mind.

She shook the images away. Lance and Brody were both alive. No uniformed chaplains had visited their loved ones.

“Stella?” Carl stopped her with a hand on her wrist. “You were just in a shooting this afternoon. Are you all right?”

She wouldn’t be sidelined in the search for Gianna. “I’m fine.”

Stella shook off the mental slide show. No one was going to get shot tonight. They weren’t going to be surprised.

Carl took one side of the doorway. Stella stood on the other. The third uniform crouched behind them. She wiped water from her forehead and knocked on the door. No one answered. She rapped again. “Mr. O’Neil? This is the police. We have a warrant.”

The only answer was the sound of rain beating on the porch roof.

Stella gave knocking one more try. “Mr. O’Neil, open the door.”

Next to her, Carl drew his weapon.

Stella shielded her eyes and tried to peer through the glass panes in the door. “I can’t see much. It’s dark in there.”

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