Chaser - Bonus Content

Kissing Asphalt

For reference, this story takes place between Blood & Fire and Chaser. It first appeared in the Murder-A-Go-Gos anthology.

Sitting in the back seat of the Lexus SUV, I racked the slide on my Ruger 9mm, secured the snub-nosed .357 revolver in my ankle holster, and adjusted the Velcro straps on my Kevlar vest. I tried to convince myself I was ready for action. But I wasn’t.

My body was sore and heavy with fatigue from an all-night session of much-needed sex. Meanwhile, my mind bobbed like a balloon with the giddiness of newfound love. A voice in the back of my brain warned me to get my shit together and quit acting like a twelve-year-old with her first crush.

It didn’t work. As I stared blankly out the window at Phoenix’s urban desert whizzing past, a highlights reel of the night before played in my mind, with the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” as the soundtrack.

“Oy! Earth to Jinx Ballou! Are ya with us?” My boss, Conor Doyle, glared at me from the front passenger seat.

Deez, Conor’s second-in-command, chuckled from behind the wheel. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say our girl got some last night.” I caught his wink in the rearview mirror.

“Shut the hell up, Deez,” I playfully punched the back of his seat.

Murph, the guy sitting to my right, screwed up his face. “All the times I ask you out, and now you’re fucking some other guy?”

Murph was a show pony, a former college baseball star getting by on his pretty boy looks and white guy swagger. So not my type. Also, I wasn’t sure how he’d react when he found out I was transgender. In the testosterone-fueled world of bounty hunting, I preferred keeping that on a strict need-to-know basis.

“Not that I owe you an explanation, but I don’t sleep with people I work with.” Usually.

“Really?” Deez said, a razor blade of skeptical humor in his voice.

Conor cleared his throat. “If we’re quite finished discussing who Jinx is shagging, I’d like to return to the mission at hand.”

I blushed and turned to Conor, duly scolded. “I’m listening, mon capitaine!”

“As I was saying, this tosser, Bobby Ransom, has a violent history related to his meth operation. He served as a U.S. Army Ranger till he got booted for possession. He’s charged with three counts murder and one count drug trafficking.” 

I tried to focus on Conor’s instructions, repressing a gushing, gooey-eyed smile. I knew from the serious expression on his face this Ransom guy wasn’t our usual bail jumper. But Conor’s Irish brogue, the ruggedness of his stubbly jawline, and the morning light shimmering off his coppery locks set my body afire. I could still feel his hands on me from the night before.

“My informant tells me his brother, Jimmy, and other members of his crew may be there. Don’t take any chances. Ransom and his people will do anythin’ to keep their million-dollar meth enterprise a-goin’.”

“I’ve butted heads with Jimmy Ransom before.” Deez shook his head, as he turned south on Fifty-First Avenue toward Laveen. “Crazy motherfucker. Big, too. Like a goddamned cement truck.”

Deez was a big guy himself, though more lean muscle than bulk. He’d worked with Conor for twelve years, almost twice as long as me. The concern in his voice pulled me from my lovesick teenager dream state.

“So, what’s the plan?” I asked.

“Murph and me will take the front.” Conor clapped a hand on Deez’s shoulder. “Mate, you and Jinx come in through the back.”

“We using flashbangs?” asked Murph, a gleeful look in his eyes. 

Conor shook his head. “My informant says Ransom may have a meth lab on the premises. We make entry with rams and secure the facility with force and intimidation. Only fire your weapons if absolutely necessary. Don’t need us getting blown to hell over a bloody bounty.”

Everyone nodded, though Murph looked like a spoiled child, disappointed he couldn’t play with a favorite toy.

“Any other questions?” asked Conor.

When no one responded, he continued, “Everyone switch your walkies to channel 4 and let’s get ready to grab our guy.” A grin cut across his face with a twinkle in his emerald eyes I hoped was meant for me.

Deez pulled into an upper middle-class neighborhood of identical beige two-story homes with tiny green lawns. Perfect cover for a meth lab as long as the neighbors didn’t complain about the smell.

Conor pointed to a red Dodge pickup sitting in one driveway facing the street. “That’s Ransom’s truck.”

Deez blocked the driveway with the Lexus. Unless Ransom plowed through his neighbor’s prickly pear patch, he wasn’t going anywhere.

I took a deep breath to clear my mind of hearts and rainbows. I needed my head in the game. Distractions got people killed.

“Let’s roll, lads.”

At Conor’s command, we charged out of the Lexus and rushed to our positions. Deez carried the heavy battering ram like it was nothing more than a milk jug. I followed him through a gate to the backyard, keeping an eye on windows and other possible exit points from the house.

My pulse quickened, pushing away my weariness and all thoughts of the night before. This was my favorite part of the job: the takedown. It was also the most dangerous.

Deez and I took positions on the side of a sliding glass door underneath a covered porch. The backyard was less well-tended than the front. Rotting fruit lay scattered around a grapefruit tree in a patchy, yellow lawn. A red tricycle sat on its side next to a rusty wagon.

I caught a rank chemical odor coming from a large shed, secured with a padlock on the door. I guess Ransom preferred keeping his cooking operation outside the house.

Conor’s voice crackled on the walkie. “Everyone in position?”

“Backdoor team ready,” replied Deez.

“Just a heads up, there may be children present,” I added.

“Copy that. Watch out for the little ones,” Conor warned. “On my mark. Go!”

A blow from the ram transformed the glass door into a shower of crystalline shards. I charged into a living room filled with clutter and smelling of dirty diapers. “Bail enforcement! On the floor! Get on the floor now!”

As my eyes adjusted to the interior, I noticed a five-year-old boy gaping at us from the sofa. He sat frozen, without a sound, his mouth a tiny O of surprise. A video game controller lay idle in his hand. The rat-a-tat-tat of a first-person shooter blared from a television against the wall.

Deez appeared behind me and made shushing sounds at the boy. I continued into the house, checking closets and cabinets for people hiding. When I met Conor and Murph coming from the front, I turned left up a narrow staircase.

The stairs emptied into a hallway with a few doors on either side. I kicked open the first door to my right. A young woman lay on a mattress on the floor, screaming and covering her naked body with a bed sheet.

“Bail enforcement! Get on the ground! Face down now! Hands behind your head! Don’t make me shoot you!”

She turned and lay on her stomach, interlacing her hands behind her head. With my left hand, I pulled out a pair of zip tie handcuffs. As I tightened the cuffs on the woman’s wrists, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. A mountainous shadow slammed into me with the force of a runaway freight train.

I bounced off the mattress and into the wall, losing my gun in the process. A man with a shaved head jumped on me, hands locked like a vice around my throat. His eyes were wild and huge, blazing with hate.

I drove my clasped fists up between his arms, but his grip on my throat held like reinforced steel. I thrashed, punched, and kicked without effect at the beast bearing down on me. My lungs burned for oxygen. My vision darkened. 

As my last wisp of hope evaporated, Deez charged into the room and tossed the big man off me. I sucked in a grateful lungful of air, coughing and struggling to sit up. The rumble of titan-sized bodies locked in combat shook the room, followed by the deafening thunderclap of a gunshot. The naked woman screamed into the mattress. Deez fell to the floor.

I drew the revolver from my ankle holster as my attacker turned back toward me, Deez’s gun in his hand. I put three .357 slugs in his chest and one up through his flaring nostrils. Blood and brain matter painted the ceiling above him. He dropped to his knees, then collapsed into a heap. The woman sobbed next to me.

I rushed to Deez, who lay on his back, gurgling. Blood pooled beneath him. I clamped my hand on the slippery, ugly hole in his neck. “Help! We need help here!”

Murph rushed into the room and froze, staring at Deez. “Oh shit.”

“Don’t just stand there!” I shouted. “Call 911!”

“Oh, yeah.” He pulled out his phone.

“You’re gonna make it,” I said to Deez, despite the blood seeping through my fingers. His gaze locked with mine, eyes wild with terror, like an animal that knew it was dying.

After five hour-long minutes, the Phoenix PD and paramedics arrived to take over. I stepped away to let them do their work.

A uniformed officer escorted me downstairs to the living room to get my initial statement. The kid was gone, probably in DCS custody. The TV was dark and quiet.

I gave the officer a rundown of events as best as I could recall. My voice was hoarse and my throat burned, but otherwise, I was okay physically. Emotionally, I was a mess.

After taking down my statement, the officer told me to wait on the couch. I sat for what felt like hours, while the scene replayed on a loop in my mind. I couldn’t shake the fear I’d screwed up.

How did I miss that guy when I came into the room? How did I let him pin me? I’d studied aikido and Krav Maga for years and had used them on numerous occasions. Somehow it wasn’t enough to get myself free of his grip. I shivered in post-adrenaline withdrawal.

I expected Conor would walk up at any moment and tell me everything was okay. But he didn’t. Where is he? Why wasn’t he with Murphy?

Detective Oliver Jennings, a veteran cop I knew from the year I’d spent on the force, walked into the living room and sat down on the coffee table across from me. He always reminded me of a chunky Tom Skerritt. 

“How’s it going, Ballou?”

“I’ve had better days.”

“I imagine. Care to tell me what happened?”

I repeated my story. He peppered me with the same questions from different angles, no doubt looking for inconsistencies. But my story was solid.

Jennings informed me that the guy I’d killed was Jimmy Ransom, Bobby’s younger, much bigger, brother. Bobby, however, was gone when the police arrived, as was his red Dodge pickup.

“Where’s Conor?” I asked Jennings.

“Paramedics transported him and Deez to Maricopa Medical.”

“Why? What happened?”

“Long, nasty stab wound in his arm. Didn’t appear to be life-threatening, but he’ll need a lot of stitching up,” Jennings said as he closed his notepad and stood up.

“And Conor agreed to go to the hospital?” I was surprised.

Jennings knitted his brow. “Why wouldn’t he?”

“He’s extremely phobic of hospitals, ever since a bomb killed his sister in Northern Ireland a while back.” I took a deep breath to clear my head. “We done here?”

“I think so. I’m writing this up as self-defense. You need medical treatment?” 

I rubbed my sore neck. “I’m okay.” 

Jennings put a hand on my shoulder. “Take care of yourself, Ballou. I miss seeing you around the Precinct.”

He started to walk out and turned. “Oh, Conor wanted me to give these to you.” He tossed me a set of keys with the Lexus key fob.

“Thanks.” I said as he walked away.

“Jinx?” called Murph from the front of the house.

“In here.” I didn’t move when he shuffled in, looking like a deflated balloon.

“What happened to Conor?” I asked.

“Conor went to clear the first room on the left. I took the next, but no one was there. I doubled back and found Conor and Ransom fighting. I couldn’t get a clean shot. Ransom stabbed Conor and hopped out the window onto the roof.” 

“You go after him?”

Murph shrugged. “By the time I made sure Conor was okay, Ransom had jumped into his truck and took off. Plowed through the neighbor’s cactuses to get past the Lexus. That’s when I heard gunshots from your side of the house.”

“So, all this was for nothing, huh? Shit.”

“How’d Deez get hurt?”

“Our fugitive’s brother jumped me in the back bedroom. When Deez pulled him off, the guy grabbed Deez’s gun and shot him in the neck.”

“Didn’t you stop him?”

I gave Murph a what-the-fuck look. “I blew the guy’s fucking brains out.”

“How’d he get the jump on you in the first place?”

“Don’t start with me.” I took a deep breath and stood up. “Right now we need to get to the hospital for Conor and Deez.”

The drive from Laveen to Maricopa Medical was dead silent. Last thing I needed was a smart-ass punk like Murph giving me the third degree when I already felt guilty.

When we walked into the Emergency Room, we found Conor sitting on a loveseat in the waiting area. A large gauze bandage encircled his left bicep. He stood when he spotted us.

I hugged him. “You okay?”

“Aye. Ransom’s a clever fuck with a knife, but I’ll survive. Just a few stitches.” Conor’s voice was a bit slurred and his eyes glassy. “Real pisser he escaped.”

“I’m surprised to see you in here, considering your aversion to hospitals.”

Conor shrugged. “Doc gave me a shot o’ something, so I’m not feelin’ any pain.”

“What about Deez?” asked Murph.

“Still in surgery. Won’t hear anythin’ for a couple hours at least. His son, Tommy Boy, should be here in a bit.”

I continued to replay the fight in my mind, kicking myself for not seeing Jimmy Ransom sooner. How could I miss a guy that big? Would I have seen him if my brain wasn’t awash in hormones and gushy emotions? My chest tightened as the scent memory of Deez’s blood lingered in my nose. The desperate gurgles he made in his attempts to breathe rattled in my ears.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Not your fault, love.”

“It’s just . . .that guy, Jimmy . . . he came out of nowhere. Don’t know how I missed him. Next thing I know he’s on top of me. Deez tried to help.”

“Shite happens in this bloody business. Deez shoulda kept control of his gun. Not your fault.” Conor kissed my temple. “Gonna grab some coffee from the café down the hall. Ya want a cuppa?”

I wanted him to hold me and tell me Deez would be fine. “Coffee’d be great, sweetie. Thanks.” I forced a smile at him as he shuffled down the corridor.

“You two a couple now?” There was venom in Murph’s voice. “Won’t go out with me, but you’ll sleep with the boss.”

“Conor and I’ve gone out a few times.”

“The way you looked this morning, I’d say you were fucking like rabbits all night long.”

I set my jaw. So this is how he was going to play it? “What Conor and I do in our off-hours is none of your goddamned business, Murph.”

“All those times I asked you out, and you treated me like filthy white trash.”

If the garbage can fits, I thought. “Who I go out with is my choice. I don’t owe you an explanation.”

“No, you owe Deez an explanation.”

“What the hell’s that mean?”

“If you’d had your mind in the game instead of being a googly-eyed school girl gushing over the boss, maybe Deez wouldn’ta got shot and we’d have Bobby Ransom in custody.”

“You don’t know shit.”

“Tell me I’m wrong.”

“Shut your fucking yap.”

Murph rose to his feet, towering over me on the loveseat. “You gonna make me?”

I stood up. He was a good six inches taller than me. “What happened wasn’t my fault. Cops said so. Conor said so.” I wanted to believe it, too.

“Oh, Conor said so. Well, if the man you’re fucking says so, it must be true.”

“Fuck you, Murph. No wonder you never made the pros. You’re not a team player.”

He grabbed me by the collar and drew back to punch me. I blocked the blow and drove my knee into his crotch. He doubled over in pain and flopped onto the carpet.

“Hey! No fighting in here or I’ll call security,” said the woman at the ER’s check-in desk.

“Sorry. Won’t happen again.” I held up my hands in submission and sat back down. Murph groaned and limped to a chair twenty feet away.

When Conor returned with two coffees, I took a long sip of mine, burning the roof of my mouth. Full-on exhaustion was settling into my bones. And yet I felt restless. I had to make things right.

“If Bobby hadn’t been at his house, where would we have checked next?” I asked Conor.

“His sister’s house in Tolleson. Why?”

“Then that’s where I’m going.” I set the coffee on a nearby table and pulled out the Lexus keys.

“Don’t be daft, love.” Conor shook his head. “Ya can’t go after this gobshite alone.”

“I have to do this. For Deez.”

“Gettin’ yourself killed won’t help anyone, Jinxie. I’m not lettin’ ya do this.”

“I’ll go with her,” said Murph as he approached.

I leered at him. “Thanks, but I’ll pass.”

“No, love, he’s right. Much as I’d love to come with ya, I’m wrecked at the moment. I’ll wait here for Tommy Boy and word on Deez. You two grab Ransom. But be bloody careful.” He grabbed his injured bicep and winced.

I glared at Murph, wondering what he was up to. “Fine. Let’s go.”

“Let’s get one thing straight,” said Murph as I started the Lexus. “I’m in charge.”

I barked a laugh. “You? ’Fraid not, slugger. I’ve got seniority. You don’t.”

“You’re asleep on your feet. I don’t need you getting me killed, too.”

“Deez isn’t dead, asshole. And I took you down with one knee. So I can’t be too far gone.” I squealed the tires pulling out of the parking lot and hopped on the I-10 west to Tolleson. “Tell you what, hot shot,” I continued, “I’ll let you choose—front of the house or back?”


“Figures,” I chuckled. “Fine. I’ll take the back. Bet you fifty bucks, I bag him and you don’t.”

“Ha! I’ll gladly take that bet.”

Ransom’s sister’s house was nothing like the two-story McMansion in Laveen. It was a small, one-story clapboard house that dated back to the 1930s. Ransom’s red pickup was nowhere in sight, but he could’ve hidden it in the one-car garage.

I parked the Lexus a couple houses past our target. Another adrenaline surge gave me my second wind. I pulled on my wraparound shades and fingerless leather gloves, then drew my Ruger. “Turn on your walkie. We go on my command.”

“Whatever.” Murph rolled his eyes and hopped out of the truck, grabbing the battering ram from the back. 

I hustled around the house, ducking under the side windows. In the dirt backyard, I found Ransom’s red truck facing the house. Must’ve pulled in from the alley that ran behind the row of houses.

Before I could get into position, I heard a crash from the other side of the house, followed by Murph barking commands. Damned asshole jumped the gun.

The back door flew open and a shirtless man with long, dark hair blew past me, hightailing it barefoot toward the truck. Bobby Ransom.

“Stop! Bail enforcement!” I aimed my Ruger at him as he climbed into the truck.

I put a round through the passenger side of the windshield, trying to scare him into surrendering. Instead, Ransom floored it in reverse and swerved into the alley. I vaulted into the bed of the pickup as he put it in Drive and roared down the alley.

I could’ve shot him through the back window, but if I killed him, there’d be no bounty. And unless I could prove it was self-defense, I’d be charged with murder. I had to subdue him without getting myself killed in the process. Not an easy task with a guy like Ransom.

He swerved like a maniac down the alley, smashing into plastic garbage cans in an attempt to throw me off. I clung to the roof of the cab as cans and trash blew past me.

The truck lifted onto two wheels when he pulled a sharp right onto the paved street. I nearly slid off but planted my foot on the top of the truck bed.

Hoping to kill the engine, I fired two rounds into the hood. Twin geysers of blistering antifreeze and steam erupted from the bullet holes, blocking my view of the road, and Ransom’s too, no doubt.

The world shuddered in a thunderous crunch of metal and brick. The truck was no longer under me. I was airborne. An instant later, I was kissing asphalt.

My Ruger clattered away from me as I tumbled across the pavement. Adrenaline and fear pulled me to my feet. I drew the Rossi .357 from my ankle holster and aimed it back at my quarry.

Ransom’s pickup truck had collided with a brick and stucco mailbox. The continuous wail of the truck’s horn accompanied the steam hissing from the radiator. The bittersweet smell of antifreeze filled the air. I recovered my Ruger, holstered the revolver, and limped toward the truck.

Bobby Ransom sat hunched over the steering wheel, the deflated airbag draped across it like a throw blanket. His nose was bleeding and his face slack. His lips moved, but I couldn’t hear him over the blaring horn.

I yanked him from the cab by his hair and threw him facedown onto the pavement. The truck’s horn went silent, replaced by my fugitive’s groaning. I cuffed him and pressed my pistol to his temple.

“Listen up, asshole. I shot your brother. I’ll shoot you, too, if you don’t come quietly. Is that understood?”

“You killed my brother?!” he screamed, his voice filled with a mix of sorrow and anger. “Goddamned bitch!”

“After he tried to kill me and my buddy, you bet I did.”

“Why you doing this?” he whined.

“Listen to you, all sad and contrite like you’re an innocent victim in all this. You murdered three people and skipped your court date, asshole.”

“My lawyer took care of it.”

“Yeah, that’s what they all say.” I pulled him to his feet and escorted him back up the street.

My gloves and jeans were shredded from the asphalt. Blood seeped from abrasions on my elbows and thighs. Every bone in my body ached from the impact, but I didn’t think anything was broken.

There was no sign of Murph when we reached the Lexus. I put Ransom in the backseat and secured his seatbelt. “Stay there or, so help me, I will reunite you with your brother in the hereafter. Got it?”

He nodded sullenly.

“Murph, where the hell are you?” I said into my walkie.

There was no response. Damn that boy!

I trudged into the house through the busted front door. “Murph!” I called.

A distant female voice shouted, “He’s in here.”

I hustled down a hallway, with my Ruger in one hand, my revolver in the other. Murph was kneeling on the floor in the back bedroom, hands above his head. A rail thin woman with long dark hair stood over him pointing a .44 magnum at his head. The gun looked like it weighed more than she did. A large plastic suitcase lay open on the bed, filled with stacks of bills.

I aimed my guns at the woman. “What the hell’s going on?”

“Motherfucker was tryin’ to rob me,” said the woman through clenched teeth.

“Murph!” I said with a sardonic grin. “Were you stealing money from this fine lady?”

A wet spot in the crotch of his pants expanded. “I’m sorry, okay? I screwed up.”

“You know, Murph, you’re a real asshole. Maybe I should walk away and let her shoot you.”

“No, no, please don’t do that, Jinx. I’m sorry for what I said earlier. Deez getting shot wasn’t your fault.”

He was saying what I wanted to hear. But neither of us believed it.

“What’s your name?” I asked the woman.

“Lisa. Lisa Moody.”

“You Bobby and Jimmy’s sister?”

“Yeah. What of it?”

“Nice to meet you, Lisa.” I was punch-drunk from adrenaline. “I’m Jinx Ballou. This here’s Murph. He’s a screw-up and an asshole. Much as I’d love to see his brains splattered across your bedroom wall, I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.”

“Oh yeah?” Her gaze challenged me.

“For one, dipshit here owes me fifty dollars. We had a little bet going over who’d bag your brother Bobby. He’s sitting right now in our SUV with my handcuffs.”

“You think I care about your stupid bets?”

“Suppose not. More importantly, Bobby’s bail bond company hired us to take him back to jail after he missed his court date. The court system takes a dim view of bail jumpers.”

“Don’t give this piece of shit the right to steal my money.”

“On that we can agree,” I replied. “However, if you don’t put down that revolver, I will shoot you. I might even feel bad about it. After all, I did kill your brother Jimmy earlier today. I’d hate to do the same to you over—what’s that—about ten grand?”

“You killed my brother?” Her voice faltered. She covered her mouth with her free hand, pressing the .44 Magnum into Murph’s perfectly moussed blond hair.

“Best thing for you is to put down that hand cannon and we’ll leave you to wipe your tears with all this cash.”

The barrel of the .44 Magnum drooped, and the tension in the room eased measurably.

“Oh, Jimmy.” Her eyes blazed. Her grip on the revolver tightened. I fired both of my guns at her, but not before she put one through Murph’s skull. They both crumpled like marionettes with cut strings.

I sat in an upholstered, wood-frame chair next to the monitor tracking Deez’s heart rate and other vital functions. Deez’s nineteen-year-old son, Tommy Boy, sat on the other side of the bed, face wet with grateful tears as the big guy started asking how he’d ended up in the hospital.

“Deez,” I said, my voice choked with emotion. “So glad you’re okay. I’ll give you two some privacy while I see what Conor’s up to.”

“Okay.” His lids drooped and he reached out a hand, which I grasped gently. “See you soon, girl.”

I rushed out before I started to ugly cry. I’d figured if he pulled through, the guilt would subside. It didn’t. And as much as I hated Murph, his death weighed on me, as well. Emotionally, I felt like I’d gone ten rounds with a heavyweight boxer.

On the plus side, I was now ten thousand dollars richer, not including my cut of Bobby Ransom’s bounty.

Conor sat on a concrete bench outside the hospital’s main entrance.

“Hey!” I plopped down beside him.

He wrapped his arm around me and kissed me on the lips. “How’s Deez?”

“Groggy but awake.”

“Good.” He ran a hand through his hair. “The cops doing anything about you killing Ransom’s sister?”

I’d filled Conor in after I called 911 at Lisa Moody’s. I didn’t mention the suitcase of money, which was now stashed in the back of my bedroom closet. It was drug money. Blood money. I considered donating it to Planned Parenthood. Well, maybe some of it. 

“Detective Jennings worked me over for a couple hours. Wasn’t happy about me killing two people in separate incidents in a single day,” I said. “Still, he ruled it defense of another. No charges.” 

“Real pisser about Murph.” His face darkened. The trauma of the day visibly weighed on his shoulders.

“Yeah.” What else could I say?

“He was a cheeky bastard, but he had potential, ya know? I hate that we gotta replace him.”

“He’s not the only one you have to replace.” My heart grew heavy.

Conor raised an eyebrow. “Whaddya mean?”

“I love you, Conor. Kinda weird to say after only three dates, but it’s how I feel. Being trans, I never thought I’d find someone who cared for me like you do.”

“Trans or not, you’re a woman in my book, and I love ya, too. But what’s that got to do with replacing ya?”

“I can date you or I can work with you. Not both. You’re my boss, for crying out loud. Complicates things. Puts people at risk.”

He held my gaze for a long moment. “Not going back to being a bloody cop, are ya?”

I scoffed. “Hell no! But maybe you can help me start my own team. I feel I’m ready.”

He thought about it and smiled. “Maybe you’re right, love. Don’t need the other blokes gettin’ jealous of me shagging ya.”

I shoved him playfully. “Shut the hell up.”

We sat for a moment in silence. My love for him terrified me more than going up against psychos like the Ransoms. But what the hell, I was a thrill seeker.

I stood up. “Let’s go say hi to Deez.”

Conor looked at the glass-enclosed entrance as if it were the Ninth Circle of Hell. “I really want to. But . . .”

“Come on, I’ll hold your hand the whole time. Besides, he looks good and he’s up on the fourth floor. It won’t be like going into the ER.”

“Bloody hell! All right.” He took a few steps. “Maybe I can sweet talk a nurse into giving me more of that feel-no-pain medicine.”

“Better not be sweet-talking any woman,” I warned, though I knew he’d never cheat on me.

“Aw, not jealous, are ya, love?” He shot me a mischievous grin, playing along.

I popped him on the back of his head. “Listen, mister. I already killed two people today. Don’t become my lucky number three.”

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