“Mac. Stop!” shouted Grant.
But she knew Mac wasn’t stopping until he had Josh. His motions were too focused, too sure. Mac was going after him.
Fresh fear bubbled into her throat as Mac reached the end of the dock, paused to pull off his boots, and dove into the water.
You are not getting away, not after all you’ve done.
Mac’s body sliced through the water. That bastard was going down. Ahead, Josh’s canoe moved slowly in the driving rain. The canoe was probably half-filled with water. Mac put his head down and stretched his strokes.
He was going to catch up to Josh. He wasn’t going to let that killer escape. His smashed hand throbbed. Each beat of his heart said getJosh getJosh getJosh.
The cold water numbed the pain in his hand. Fury fueled his strokes. He gained on the vessel. Josh was looking back, searching the water behind the canoe. Mac dove under the surface. Swimming hard, he came up on the other side of the boat. He put one hand on the aluminum side and tipped it. The canoe capsized. Josh fell into the lake, splashing and sputtering. His oar flew into the air and landed ten feet away.
Mac grabbed the back of his shirt and dragged him back toward the bank. Josh flailed. Mac held him under for a few seconds. Clearly at a disadvantage in the water, Josh came up spewing lake water and curses. Mac dunked him again, and he ceased resisting. Mac towed his deadweight to the shore.
Once his feet were on the ground, Josh came alive. He pulled a knife from his pocket and swung at Mac’s face. Mac grabbed his wrist and slammed the back of his elbow with an open palm. The snap of bone sang over the lake.
But psycho killer wasn’t ready to give in. He dove at Mac, teeth bared.
Mac hooked the back of Josh’s head and slammed it downward, meeting his face with a rising knee. And that finally took Josh down. He went limp, folding into the water face-first. Mac was tempted to let him drown. Hell, part of him wanted to hold the bastard’s head under for a few minutes.
But he didn’t.
He snagged the killer by his unbroken wrist and dragged him out of the water.
Grant, Hannah, and Stella raced from the woods toward him. Mac released Josh, letting him fall onto his face in the wet grass.
Stella didn’t break stride. She was on Josh in a second, cuffing his hands behind his back. With Josh restrained, she rolled him onto his back. His face was a bloody mess and Mac still wanted to kill him.
Mac dropped onto his butt. The rain slowed, and the thunder that cracked sounded farther away. The storm was moving on, but not without leaving damage in its wake.
Stella sat next to him. Her bun was drowned, her breaths heaved, and she looked as sopping wet and out of breath as he felt. “I didn’t even throw up this time.”
“Progress.” He bent his head and planted a kiss on her lips. “Let’s try and have a regular date, OK?”
She rested her head on his shoulder. Her body shook. “OK.”
Grant took charge of Josh, heaving him across his shoulders and carrying him back toward the house. Stella stood. Hannah held her hand down to Mac. He took it and let her pull him to his feet.
“If you ever do anything that stupid again, I’ll kick your butt,” Hannah said.
“And I’ll help,” Grant called over his shoulder.
Mac pulled Stella to his side. He couldn’t get her close enough.
She leaned close to his ear and whispered, “Me, too.”
Mac let Grant and Hannah draw ahead. He pulled Stella under the branches of a mature oak tree. Turning her to face him, he took her hand with his unbroken one. “I’m sorry. I lost it. I couldn’t let him get away.”
Anger flushed her cheeks. “It was reckless and foolish.”
Mac dropped his chin. “I know.”
“I could have lost you.” She squeezed his fingers. “You have to promise me you’ll never do anything like that again.
She cupped his jaw. “I thought you were going to die tonight because I wouldn’t find you in time.”
“You found me.” He covered her hand with his. “I knew you would.”
“I’ve never been that scared in my life.”
“You are a damned good cop, Detective Dane.” Mac took her hand and held it over his heart. Her grip was warm and solid. “I never doubted you for a second. I knew you’d never give up on me or Gianna. You are solid and smart, stubborn and sexy, dedicated and compassionate. You are the whole package.”
Stella rested her forehead against his chest as dawn brightened the horizon. A shudder passed through her. When she lifted her face, her eyes shone with tears. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” He kissed her. She tasted of rainwater and hope. “I’m done with being reckless. No more risks for me. I have too much to lose.”
Stella balanced her laptop on her knees in the plastic hospital chair. In the bed next to her, Gianna was a slip of pale skin and bones. Her eyes were closed, and thick blankets were drawn up to her chin. One arm protruded, and an IV line snaked from her forearm to a small bag of liquid.
A knock sounded on the doorway.
“Come in,” Stella said softly.
Mac walked into the room. A splint immobilized his injured hand. His eyes locked on hers, the intensity in his gaze filling her with warmth.
He eased into the plastic chair next to her “How is she?”
“She’s going to be OK. They warmed her up and gave her a dialysis treatment. She’s sleeping it off.”
He lifted her chin with a fingertip. “You look exhausted.”
“I don’t want her to wake up alone, not after what she went through.”
“What are you doing?”
“Reports.” Stella closed her laptop.
“We wouldn’t want your paperwork to be late,” he teased.
“I like to get the facts down while their fresh in my head.” She stretched her arms over her head. Stiffness gripped her back muscles.
‘“What happened to Josh?”
“Treated for a broken nose and arm at the ER.” She checked her phone screen. “He’s being processed at the jail.”
“I wanted to kill him.”
“I know.” She took his hand. “I’m glad you didn’t. Not because I would have thought less of you. Josh deserves to die for what he’s done. But I wouldn’t want you to bear that load for the rest of your life. You’ve carried too much guilt for too long. You are a good man. It’s time you saw that in yourself.”
“How did I get so lucky that you’ll even give me the time of day?” Mac leaned over to kiss her. No quick peck, but a slow and tender gesture that had her heart stuttering. “I love you, Stella Dane. Words can’t describe how much.”
“I love you, too.” She touched his cheek, tears shining in her eyes.
Mac glanced at Gianna.
Her eyes were open. Her mouth curved in a sleepy smile.
Stella reached for her hand, gently covering it. “How do you feel?”
“Alive.” Gianna shivered. “More alive with hottie here.”
Gianna was a survivor.
Stella stood, unfolded the blanked draped across the bottom of the bed, and drew it up to the girl’s chin. “You rest. I’ll stay with you tonight.”
Gianna shook her head. “Are you freaking kidding me? You should be spending the night with him.”
“I can stay tonight, too,” Mac said. “I’m not leaving either one of you alone.”
“You can both go home.” A voice said from the doorway. Stella’s sister, Morgan, came in. “I’ll stay with Gianna tonight.”
“No one needs to stay with me.” Gianna waved. “I’m an adult.”
They ignored her.
“And when she gets released, we’re bringing her home with us.” Morgan set a closed umbrella in the corner and unbuttoned her raincoat.
Gianna’s mouth dropped open, seemingly unable to come up with a smart-alecky retort.
Morgan moved a chair from the empty side of the room. “Grandpa and I discussed it. She needs to get healthy so she can get that new kidney. Our house is the best place for that to happen.” She smiled at the teen. “And I can probably help with the paperwork.”
From the fierce gleam in Morgan’s eyes, Stella had the feeling she had more planned than helping Gianna with paperwork. Good. Morgan needed something positive to focus on.
A tear dripped down Gianna’s cheek.
Mac hauled Stella to her feet. “Thank you, Morgan. As much as I was willing to sleep in that chair, a shower and a bed would be heaven right now.”
Stella leaned over Gianna and kissed her forehead. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Gianna gripped her hand. “I don’t know what to say.”
Mac laughed. “You’re a smart kid. Say yes.”
“OK.” Sniffing, Gianna reached for a tissue from the box on her tray.
“Get some sleep.” Stella straightened and followed Mac from the room. “Have you decided what you’re going to do about Freddie? I assume the contract on your life is still out there.”
“No reason to think he’s cancelled it, but it won’t matter soon. I gave the information about his camp to the local DEA office. They’re planning a raid ASAP. They’ll move fast on it. That should take care of Freddie.”
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