My day had gone from being moderately normal by deputy US marshal standards to insane in a matter of seconds, all because the one person I counted on to always make rational choices had done the exact opposite.
He wasn’t supposed to jump off buildings.
In the movies people always talked about seeing their whole lives flash before their eyes when they thought they were going to die. I always sort of figured that for bullshit, but the moment I saw my boss, the chief deputy marshal of the Northern District of Illinois, Sam Kage, leap after a suspect into nothing, there it was, whoosh, me in a freaky-fast montage that brought me to the moment where I was sure I had no choice but to follow the man into the sky. Who knew that shit actually happened?
It all started that morning when SOG, the Special Operations Group—the marshals’ version of Special Forces—led the way into an enormous warehouse on 48th Place. They were followed quickly by TOD, Tactical Operations Division—our badass SWAT-style guys covered in body armor and Kevlar, toting serious firepower—with the marshals behind them, then uniformed Chicago Police Department bringing up the rear. Just with that many guys, the opportunity for a clusterfuck was already a possibility.
The point of this operation was to apprehend or stop Kevin and Caradoc Gannon, neo-Nazi pieces of crap who had gotten their hands on a small quantity of VX gas, and so SOG was deployed to execute the men responsible for threatening the civilian populace of Chicago. With TOD there was a good chance of survivors, and nine times out of ten, everyone came out in one piece. The SOG guys would make the decision right there on-site whether to put people down. It didn’t happen often. Unlike how it was in the movies, capturing a fugitive normally went fairly smoothly. The marshals rolled up somewhere, and some of us went around back while the rest of us went in hard through the front. Sometimes we even knocked.
My partner and now husband, Ian Doyle, went in with the first wave alongside SOG—how, I had no idea—because we’d rock-paper-scissored for who would take point in our group and who would hang back and keep an eye on our boss. Ian and I were stuck watching him because we were last on the scene. That was the agreement among the investigators on Kage’s team: whoever rolled up behind the big man had to babysit. Not that we would ever say that to his face, none of us being suicidal or insane, but it was simply understood.
So Ian was inside the warehouse with the rest of the guys and the tactical experts, and I was keeping an eye on my boss. When Kage saw a guy drop out of a second-story window onto the top of a delivery truck and then down onto the pavement, he shouted and gave chase, and I followed.
This was not supposed to happen.
There were good and bad things about being Kage’s backup. The positive part was if I was the one charging after him, then I was in the best position to protect him. I would be the one to guard him, and make sure he went home to his family that night, and stayed at the top of the food chain in charge of an entire team of deputy US marshals.
The flipside was exactly the same. Being his backup meant if I fucked up, not only was I screwing up the life he shared with his family, but also luck of the draw said the next man in his job would be worthless by comparison. Kage carried all of us on his shoulders, above the shit of red tape and politics, and he also provided shelter and protection, so losing him was not an option. For that reason, I liked him safe in his office. But Kage was on-site because it was his circus. He was the top stop of information for the marshals service in Chicago, as his boss, Tom Kenwood, had to travel back and forth a lot to Washington as well as all over the great state of Illinois. So when something big went down and the press got wind of it—as they always did—then Kage had to be there to do his voice-of-God thing and give short answers to reassure the public without confirming or denying squat.
At the moment, however, the man in question was flying down the sidewalk in front of me, his long legs eating up the concrete in pursuit of an escaped felon.
I had no idea Kage could run like that. He was fiftysomething, definitely not the thirty-three I was, so I was honestly surprised that not only could he run, but run pretty fast. Plus he was six four, with massive shoulders and a lot of hard, heavy muscle, really big, so his speed was even more shocking. He not only kept pace with the much younger fleeing fugitive but was gaining on him as well.
A parked car didn’t stop our suspect; he did an impressive parkour leap over it, completing a maneuver that had him using his hands to go down on all fours for a second before he vaulted the ancient Oldsmobile. Kage didn’t stop either, doing the classic Dukes of Hazzard slide over the hood that all the men in my life had perfected.
“Why is going around the car so difficult?” I roared after him.
Because apprehending the fugitives was a coordinated strike, I had a stupid earpiece in from when the breach happened, and we were all connected. But after things got squared away afterward, everyone else dropped off except the guys I worked with on a day-to-day basis. Normally I was the only person in my head, but because I was chasing Kage and they were all thinking they were being helpful, I had my entire team of deputy US marshals not only checking on me but shouting directions at the same time.
“Can you see him?” Wes Ching yelled.
“Pull your gun, Jones, just to be on the safe side!” Jack Dorsey suggested loudly. “But don’t shoot him, for fuck’s sake.”
He was being a dick. “I’m gonna shoot you when I get back!” I growled. We never ran with our guns out. That was a rookie move.
“You gotta stay right with him!” Chris Becker barked into my ear.
Like I didn’t know that?
“If he slows down, don’t leave him!” Mike Ryan insisted with a snarl.
Because I couldn’t stop or mess with my momentum in any way, there was no time to reach up and pull out the tiny earpiece to silence them. “Will you guys quit with the screaming already? Fuck!”
“Yeah, don’t leave his side, Jones!” Ethan Sharpe demanded, ignoring me.
“I know,” I roared to everyone in general. “For fuck’s sake!”
“Make sure you yell for people to get out of his way!” Jer Kowalski instructed.
“Really?” I snapped. “‘Yell for people to move’ is your advice?”
“Somebody’s pissy,” he commented snidely. “I suggest more running, less talking, Jones.”
“Keep up with him!” Ching cautioned.
I needed all these orders because clearly I’d only been a goddamn marshal for one day.
“Are you close enough to shoot anyone who tries to touch him?” This from Chandler White, who normally didn’t try to boss me around but was clearly making an exception this time because, again, I was apparently some kind of newb who couldn’t tell his ass from a hole in the ground.
“You have him in your line of sight, right?” Eli Kohn wanted to know.
“Fuck, yes!” I shouted.
“You gotta get close, but not too close,” Sharpe felt the need to tell me.
“Try and get in front of him. That would be better,” Kowalski suggested.
“I swear to fuckin’ God, you all—”
“You know he can’t do that,” Eli objected. “Since Kage is the first one in pursuit, Miro can’t—”
“Kill the chatter,” Ching broke in angrily. “You’re all lucky Kage doesn’t have an earpiece in, or we’d all be dead.”
It was true, but since Kage was in the command center during the initial breach and was only allowed to come out when we got the all-clear, he never put in an earpiece like the rest of us.
I saw the guy turn into an apartment building and Kage follow right behind. “No, no, no,” I grumbled under my breath.
“God fucking dammit, Jones, you better not let any—”
“Will you guys all lay off!” Ian warned gruffly, and his rough whiskey voice was a welcome relief. “You know Miro’s got this covered. He’s not stupid; he knows what he’s doing. Give the man a little fuckin’ credit!”
It was good to have someone on my side who didn’t doubt my mental or physical ability and who would champion me to the others. But that wasn’t surprising; I could always count on Ian. The moment of silence that followed his outburst was soothing.
“But you can see him, right?”
“Ian!” I howled, utterly betrayed.
“I’m just asking!” he yelled back defensively.
“You can all go straight to hell!” I bellowed before I tore through the front door of the apartment building after Kage, going up the stairs right on his heels, one level after the next, Ian in my ear the whole time along with everyone else.
“You’re very sensitive, M,” Eli commented.
“Kiss my ass,” I said, careening around a corner as I followed Kage up and up.
Funny how much Eli and I had changed in the past five months. From November to March, Thanksgiving to St. Patrick’s Day, our friendship progressed, and he’d evolved from Kohn to Eli, a permanent shift in my head.
“And Ian, you can—”
“Are you still on the street?” Eli pressed.
“Where the hell is Ian?”
“He’s offline. The SOG team made the secondary interior breach,” Dorsey informed us. And while I wasn’t crazy about that, he was one of many, not leading the rest of the men.
“Miro, where the fuck are you, because GPS is showing you now at—”
“Shut the fuck up,” Dorsey griped at Eli, who’d spoken. “Miro, did you turn in somewhere? Because it looks like we lost you on the last corner.”
“The fuck do you mean, you lost—Miro, where the hell are you?” Becker yelled.
But I’d run flat-out after Kage for at least eight blocks, and we were on the fifth floor now. I was done being able to form words.
I heard Kage hit the door that led to the roof—it had a panic bar, and that sound, like a giant rubber stamp, was hard to miss—and charged out into the open after him. From where I was, maybe ten feet behind him, the sound of leather-soled shoes scraping over the rough concrete sounded like nails on a chalkboard, and the noise added to my quickly ratcheting fear the closer they got to running out of roof.
I thought Kage was going to stop.
There was no way he wasn’t going to stop.
As many times as he had said to me, “Marshals don’t jump off buildings, Jones,” I would have bet my life on the fact that when the other guy took a running leap toward the next building over, Kage would come to a stop. He didn’t. He followed, and I was so astonished that I found myself sliding awkwardly, my feet slipping on the gravel, arms windmilling for balance, out of control for a moment as I finally came to a bracing halt at the edge of the building I too would have had to hurdle as I’d just watched Kage do.
And then came that second, my life in a blur up to that moment when I realized the one person I knew I could always count on… was gone.
No one but Ian could ever understand what Kage meant to me. It was cliché, yes, but I’d never had a father; there was never an older man who took me under his wing, never one who was both mentor and guardian, not just because he had to but because he wanted to. I would never be the same from this second on.
What was worse was that I knew him even better after just one awkward, ridiculous, scary dinner in February. One weird Valentine’s Day, and everything was different. It wasn’t like we were buddies or that I understood at all how his mind worked, but I did know how much he loved his husband and what lengths he would go to keep him safe. It wasn’t every man who took a bullet for someone he loved. Ian and I knew a secret others didn’t, because he hadn’t even told the rest of the team he’d been shot. Instead he simply showed up for work the following Monday, having taken the two days of vacation already on the books, like nothing remotely interesting had happened. Since he liked to look bulletproof, Ian and I saw no reason to muck around with that perception.
I knew the loyalty I saw him give his men, give me and everyone else who worked for him, extended to his friends as well. He worried about his family, his friends, his team, and honestly, just seeing him grounded me. But now….
My heart clenched, my stomach sank, and my breath caught as I closed my eyes for a second and tried to reconcile what I believed in—his invincibility—with what I’d just seen—his death—before I stepped up to the wall and peered over the side.
There, braced on a thin lip of what could only be called an ornamental flight of whimsy on the architect’s part—no more than molding on the building—was Kage, dangling by a one-handed death grip over a fifty-foot plunge, holding on to the guy he’d been chasing with the other.
I nearly dropped dead.
“Take him,” Kage growled while heaving the guy up to me.
I couldn’t have done it. Ian couldn’t have done it. It required muscles neither of us possessed and the ability to deadlift at least two hundred pounds. And he was doing it from basically the shoulder alone.
I was strong, but not like that, and I couldn’t imagine the concentration needed to keep the guy from falling in the first place.
I grabbed the fugitive, realized I was looking at none other than Kevin Gannon—which was why, of course, Kage took off after him in the first place—hauled him up over the edge, and then cuffed him. “Don’t move,” I warned. Normally I put a knee on a suspect’s back when I had them on the ground, but this guy wasn’t fighting or squirming. He just lay there, limp.
“No,” he said between gasps, “not moving.”
Bending back over, I saw Kage had both hands on the top edge of the roof. I leaned forward to offer him a hand.
“Secure your prisoner, Jones,” he ordered gruffly before he pressed himself onto the ledge, turned to sit and swing his legs around, and then stood.
I stepped back, watching as he gave himself a quick dusting, straightened his navy suit, adjusted the tie, and then faced me.
I couldn’t stop staring.
I had no clue what to say.
“Don’t tell anybody,” he instructed before turning for the door of the roof.
Don’t tell anybody? Was he fucking kidding? I could barely breathe!
Holy motherfucking hell.
I had to concentrate on not hyperventilating.
Once I could move air through my lungs again—because Jesus Christ, I thought Ian was good at stopping my heart—I finally turned to look at my prisoner.
“That man is insane,” Gannon said.
I nodded in earnest.
“But, yanno,” he said on a sharp exhale, “kind of awesome.”
He got a wan smile from me that time.
Kage waited for us at the bottom of the last flight of stairs and then opened the door to seven uniformed CPD officers. Because his face was now recognizable, along with those of the mayor, the police superintendent, and the state’s attorney, they straightened, holstered their drawn weapons, and waited for his order.
He only glowered and told them to move so we could get through. When we got closer to the warehouse, I saw Ching and Becker waiting for us along with Dorsey and Ryan, plus Sharpe and White. I didn’t see Ian anywhere, which didn’t concern me since the area of operation was swarming with law enforcement. Kowalski and Eli weren’t there, instead back at the office on desk duty, running warrants and playing liaison to those of us in the field. Technically it was Ian’s and my day to do it, but Eli had his cousin Ira coming in from San Francisco, and he didn’t want to be stuck in the field when he was supposed to be picking the guy up at O’Hare. I understood. With our job, it could go off the rails at any time. It was best to simply not engage than to try to get away.
“—secured, and all the VX gas canisters have been recovered.”
My mind had been drifting, so I was lucky the glut of information was not directed at me.
“But SOG was called to an emergency in Hyde Park, so they’re gone.”
“We need to run warrants on all these men,” Kage began, indicating the people lying on the ground, facedown with their hands zip-tied behind their backs. “Run everyone through NCIC and then—”
“Is that really necessary?” asked Darren Mills, the new supervisory deputy who took over Kage’s spot after he was promoted.
First, holy God, he interrupted Kage.
Second, not only did he question our boss, his boss, but what he asked was stupid.
I glanced at Ching, who shot a look over to Becker, who winced. It was not the first time Mills, who had been chosen by a committee without the benefit of endorsement from Kage or Kage’s boss, Tom Kenwood, had opened his mouth and inserted his foot. He had also missed a filing for Asset Forfeiture, so we missed the monthly auction where we got the cars we drove, or sometimes didn’t want to drive but got stuck with anyway—a horrific carnation-pink Cabriolet came instantly to mind—and he still didn’t know who did what in our building.
Over the years, I’d come to realize there were two kinds of transfers, which was probably true of all workplace environments. There were people who came in quietly, got the lay of the land, and worked really hard to make sure everyone saw they could be counted on to do the job. Then there were others like Mills, who swaggered in, put on airs, and pretended to run the place and direct the team. In his defense, the investigator team normally did report to the supervisory deputy, as we all did to Kage when he was in that position, but when he moved up, Kage changed the reporting system so the lead investigator, currently Becker, remained in direct contact with him—basically circumventing Mills. In response Mills had spoken to Kenwood, US marshal in charge of the Northern District of Illinois, one of the ninety-four men appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, to complain that Kage hadn’t relinquished all his duties.
That was the gist of it, anyway, and I only knew that much because Dorsey and Ryan had been in the office processing a fugitive when Mills barged into Kage’s office without an invitation.
“Really?” I’d deadpanned over wings, eating one after another, licking my fingers and listening while we sat at Crisp on Broadway. Ian was shoved up beside me, laughing as he watched me but also listening. “Mills just rolled into his office without checking with Elyes?”
Kage had needed an assistant for as long as I’d known him, and he finally got one in the form of small, slender, hyperefficient Elyes Salerno, easily one of the most beautiful women I’d ever met in my life. She had a pixie cut, dark tan skin with bronze undertones, and huge chestnut-brown eyes with the thickest black lashes I’d ever seen. She had fantastic fashion sense, and as many compliments as I gave her, she gave me the same back, telling me often that if only her husband had my shoe collection, she’d have no complaints. The fact that she could be midsentence with me, check her email, and answer a question for Kage if he popped his head out of his office all at the same time told me she was absolutely on top of all facets of her boss’s life, from remembering when he was supposed to be somewhere to intuitively knowing what report he needed. Elyes only left the office when Kage did. So the fact that Mills disregarded her and walked past her into the office was, I was sure, his first mistake.
“Yep,” Dorsey reported, sighing when the server put the next basket of wings down on the table. It was always good to go to Crisp with Dorsey and Ryan because they ate the same wings as me and Ian: the Seoul Sassy and the Crisp BBQ. The others liked to mix it up, but I never saw the appeal of straying from the tried and true. “Mills yells at Kage and says he’s got Kenwood on the line, and he’s about to slam the door when Kage leans out, apologizes to Elyes, and then closes the door behind him.”
I couldn’t control my smile. “Ohmygod, I can’t believe Mills is still breathing!”
“Right?” Dorsey chuckled.
“So what happened?” Ian asked, smiling as he wiped the side of my mouth. “Jesus, I can’t take you anywhere.”
I waggled my eyebrows at him as Ryan snapped his fingers between us. “Listen, this is about to get good.”
“It is,” Dorsey promised, smiling evilly. “’Cause alluva sudden Mills straightens up like you see people do in the movies when they’re freezing or turning to stone or something.”
Kage’s office was a wall of windows, so the show had to have been a good one, from where Ryan and Dorsey sat in the bullpen.
“Yeah,” Ryan agreed, grinning with his deep dimples and the glinting blue eyes that explained how he had so many women hanging off him when we went out. He was one of those guys you didn’t realize was handsome until he smiled. “Mills goes rigid, and his face turns this bright red, and then Kage does that thing where he turns and looks at you like you’re the stupidest fuckin’ thing on the planet.”
“I’ve seen that one,” Ian and I said in sync.
Dorsey scoffed. “We all have. It’s the one Phillip—”
“Call me Phil, there, buddy,” I chimed in, and Dorsey, Ryan, and I all made gun motions at each other instead of pointing.
“I think I missed something,” Ian commented, squinting.
Ryan gave a dismissive wave. “You missed nothing. Tull was the nozzle who sent us all over the fuckin’ place when you were deployed and Kage was on vacation.”
“Oh, when you were in San Francisco.” Ian made the connection, wiping my mouth again and running his thumb over my bottom lip in the process.
The heat in his eyes made me shift a bit in my seat, my chinos suddenly tighter. He had a very decadent effect on me. “Yeah,” I croaked.
“Tull was a fuckin’ douchebag,” Dorsey assured Ian, “and Kage made sure he understood that his time with the marshals service had come to an end, and when he was doing it in front of all of us, he gave him that same look, like, you are such a fuckin’ fucktard, how are you even in my goddamn office right now?”
Ryan was laughing and nodding because, just like the rest of us, he was familiar with the Kage glare of disapproval.
“He wanted to go back to JSD, but those guys work too hard to have to deal with assholes like him,” Dorsey went on, mustering up even more disdain for Tull.
“Agreed,” I said as Ian curled a piece of hair around my ear. I had been letting it grow out for a while and was still waiting for Kage to say something. “Judicial security doesn’t need a guy like Tull any more than we did.”
“So what happened with Mills?” Ian asked, wiping his hands before draping an arm around the back of my chair.
Dorsey chuckled. “He stands there for a second, looking back at Kage, and then he whips around and almost runs out of the office without closing the door.”
“Oh shit,” I breathed. “Then what?”
“Then Kage walks over to the door, gives me and Mike a head tip, and then slowly closes the door,” Dorsey wrapped up. “I mean, I don’t know what Kenwood said in there, but I’m betting things didn’t go down how Mills thought they would.”
Ryan cackled. “What a dick.”
So now even after that debacle—when Mills knew his decision to try to go over Kage’s head so epically failed—still he asked him, in front of all of us, if checking warrants was necessary when every marshal on the planet knew that was procedure. Kage said it because he was programmed to say it, not that he didn’t think it was our first step. He was like a parent reminding a child to put something away, habit and nothing more.
“Yes,” Kage said with a huff, the annoyance rolling off him. “We must.”
Mills coughed nervously.
“Where’s Doyle,” Kage snapped.
“Oh, uhm, he left with the SOG team,” Mills answered, clearly flustered, fidgeting, shifting nervously from one foot to the other.
“On whose authority?”
“Mine,” he said, darting his eyes to Kage’s face.
“Do you have his earpiece?”
He cleared his throat. “I do.”
Kage tipped his head at me. “That’s his partner. Give it to him.”
“Oh, yes,” he acknowledged, passing me the earpiece Ian should have turned back in the second he finished the operation. “SOG lost a man on the breach. He’ll be okay but had to be taken to the hospital, so Lieutenant Saford asked for Doyle, and I gave the okay.”
I glanced at Kage, whose clenched jaw told me he was not happy with that.
“Between Doyle volunteering for their ops, Saford requesting him, and you approving it—I think maybe I should look into reassigning him.”
I realized, horrified, that he was looking at me. “Sir?”
Seriously, why the hell was I in trouble? Guilt by marriage?
I had no idea what I was supposed to say.
“May I make an observation?” Mills asked.
Kage didn’t answer, but he gave him his attention.
“You know as well as I do the command of SOG here is vacant, and a former Green Beret, who’s also a marshal, would be a great fit for that office.”
Kage crossed his arms, giving Mills, who looked as though he was actually shrinking before my eyes, a look that would have peeled paint. “Really? He’d be a good fit, you think?”
I could tell when it hit Mills that maybe he’d overstepped. Like his boss hadn’t come to that same conclusion a long time ago, eons before.
“But of course you know that already, sir.”
Kage made a noise like an irritated grunt and then turned to me. “Run warrants and prints on everyone. You and the others are here until it’s done.”
Why he said it again, I had no clue, but I didn’t dare groan—he’d gut me—so instead I nodded and turned away, tugging my prisoner with me, walking with Becker and Ching.
“So Captain America bailed again, huh?” Ching taunted as soon as we were out of Kage’s earshot.
I flipped him off.
“So touchy.” Becker snickered before pointing at the end of the twenty-four-man line.
“Jesus,” I muttered, looking at all of them, wanting to find out where Ian was—and more importantly, how he was—but instead I was stuck running fingerprints and checking warrants for what looked like hours yet.
Earlier that morning before work, when I’d been making breakfast and he was reading his email, he’d suddenly asked me what “upcycled” meant.
“What?” I asked, turning away from the eggs in a basket.
“You don’t know what that is either?”
“I have a guess, but gimme some context.”
“Well, Josue says he’s getting an Etsy shop, and he’s going to upcycle vintage jewelry,” he answered, looking up at me, squinting. “The fuck does that mean?”
Josue Morant, who used to be Josue Hess, was a witness I had brought back from Las Vegas last November. He had become, like Cabot Kincaid and Drake Palmer before him, more than a witness. He was like a ward to Ian and me. The fact that he was emailing Ian meant he was trying to circumvent me for some reason, and I could hazard a guess as to why.
“Etsy is an online site where artists and folks like that sell stuff they make,” I explained.
“Okay,” he said as if I hadn’t helped in the least.
“And I’m guessing ‘upcycling’ means repurposing.”
“Whatever,” he said dismissively, done, I could tell, discussing things he didn’t give a crap about. “I just reminded him that he can’t use his real name, can’t use any name remotely attached to his former life, and can’t post a picture of himself, or one he created, so we’ll see what he does from here.”
“Poor kid. He was supposed to testify in February.”
“Yep.” Ian yawned and stretched. “That’s what happens when rich criminals get good lawyers. Trials get pushed back.”
“I think that—”
“Hungry,” he whined petulantly, “need food. How long does it take to drop eggs into a hole in a piece of bread and fry them? I would’ve had this done hours ago.”
I scoffed, turned back to the eggs looking good at the center of the sourdough bread, and put the red peppers I’d sautéed earlier on top.
“And not that I’m complaining, because you cooking for me is very domestic and all, but we usually just have coffee, so what gives?”
“I just—I’m worried that something will come up and you won’t get a chance to eat,” I answered, and a second later was surprised to find him there at my back, mouth on the side of my neck, biting gently. “Knock it off. You’re gonna turn me into a giant goose bump, and I’m trying to make the presentation on the eggs perfect, which is why it’s taking so long.”
He didn’t listen, instead nuzzling my hair and then kissing my ear, his warm breath making me shiver as he wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me against his hard body, my ass pressed to his groin.
“Jesus, Ian,” I groaned, going boneless in his arms, my head back on his shoulder, as always loving the feel of him, his strength and heat, the power in a simple hold.
“Let’s move this off the burner so I can get what I really need,” he rumbled, one hand on my belt buckle, tugging my dress shirt out of my pants with the other.
“You need to eat,” I managed hoarsely, the way my voice cracked not hot in the least. It wasn’t my fault, though; Ian could make me forget my name with not much work on his part. He had a drugging effect on me that was utterly sinful. “I want to feed you.”
“Well, I wanna—”
“Eat,” I asserted, grinning.
“Eat something,” he assured me before he turned me around, moving the pan off the burner at the same time, then laid a kiss on me that left no doubt in my mind about what he wanted. If his stomach hadn’t picked that moment to growl so loud it startled us both, I knew we would have been late for work.
I chuckled as he stepped back.
“Maybe you should eat, huh, baby?”
“What do you think?”
“Maybe,” he allowed, coming clean. “And don’t smile at me.”
I couldn’t help it. Just looking at him made me stupidly happy.
Minutes later, as he was inhaling his food, I got a begrudging smile coupled with flashing eyes that made my knees wobble as I clutched at the counter. There was no doubt about it. Ian Doyle had me wrapped around his finger.
Brought back sharply to the present from my wandering thoughts, I saw Kage gesturing to me, and I looked back at Becker.
“I got him,” he said, taking hold of my prisoner’s arm. “Go.”
I bolted over to Kage, and he put a hand on my bicep—which he never did, not a big touchy-feely guy, my boss—while still listening to others standing in a semicircle around him but clearly about to give me directions.
He turned his attention on me, and I saw the concern there in his eyes. “You remember the marshal from Alabama who came in last week, the one working out of the Middle District in Montgomery?”
“Yeah, uhm.” I had to think a second. “Juanita Hicks. She was looking to talk to the couple from Madison who were put into WITSEC here.”
He nodded. “Well, it turns out that wasn’t Hicks. She was killed two weeks ago, and that woman is Bellamy Pine, Dennis Pine’s wife.”
“Oh shit,” I sighed, suddenly glad I’d put her off because of protocol. It was simple dumb luck: because I had put the adorable young couple into witness protection in Chicago, I had to be the one to go with her to see them. Since I hadn’t had time until this week, she’d had to wait, much, I recalled now, to her annoyance.
They were a nice couple, a ballet teacher named Jolie Ballard and her website-designer husband, Brett, who did not deserve to have Dennis Pine in their home at three in the morning along with three other men toting two witnesses. How they managed to witness Pine killing three people—the two he planned, plus one of his own who’d grown a conscience—and get out of the house with their two dogs was a miracle. They did it with misdirection and, apparently, as Jolie told me, a well-timed leap—or grand jeté, as she called it—over a smallish sinkhole in their backyard. Jolie could do it, years and years of intensive ballet training, even carrying her Pomeranian, but Pine went down, and that was that. Brett told me the county was supposed to fix the sinkhole, and he’d never been more thankful for red tape in his life.
As it turned out, Pine’s trial was in two weeks, and if Jolie and Brett took the stand, Pine would get the needle. His wife, Bellamy, was trying not to let that happen.
“Yeah, I-I was supposed to call her today.”
He nodded. “Well, you need to keep that meeting. We’ll monitor you because Hicks had a partner, Christopher Warren, and he’s missing as well. They discovered Hicks’s body this morning behind an RV park in Mobile, but no sign of Warren.”
“So they want to take Bellamy alive.”
“That’s the plan, yes.”
“Did Doyle go with you to meet Bellamy? Will she think it’s odd that you come alone?”
“No, sir, Ian went with Sharpe and White on the fugitive pickup out in Skokie last week, the guy who busted out of that prison in California—I forget which,” I told him honestly. “But that’s when I met with her, when most everyone else was out.”
“Okay, then,” he said, meeting the eyes of everyone else there, some in suits, some in tactical gear. “We need you to call her and meet her, and we’ll do the rest.”
“Yessir,” I replied, reaching for the phone in my back pocket.
He put a hand on my arm to stop me and then glanced around the circle, making sure everyone understood he was talking to them. “All eyes on my man, you understand?”
And everyone listened to him, like always.