CuffedBy: Joanna Blake
I was in disguise, dammit.
“You need a place to stay?”
I shrugged. I didn’t want to seem too eager. But I would have killed for a place to stay. After a handful of days on the run, I’d realized finding a safe place to sleep was next to impossible.
You could doze with your back against a wall, but actual sleep? That was a joke.
“Well, I got a spare bedroom in the back.”
I looked at him, desperate to believe he was just a nice, big, tattoo covered man.
“What’s the catch?”
“Don’t like charity. Don’t need it.”
“Fair enough. I got plenty of work for an enterprising young lady such as yourself.”
I nodded. I didn’t bother telling him I was a boy again. The jig was up.
He smiled at me as I held out my hand and shook it.
I finished my stew and he gave me another bowl. And then another. He fed me until I was warm again. Until I was so full I was afraid I might burst. He gave me a place to sleep with a lock on the door and a set of clean clothes that were way too big.
And the next day, he gave me a job.
Fifty-eight. Fifty-nine. Sixty. Sixty-one.
I counted out the pushups in my head. It was the only thing that could clear my mind, other than a fifth of bourbon. And since I was on duty, pushing my body to the limit was the only option I had.
I ignored the heavy, sore feeling in my muscles. I ignored the buzzing of the fluorescent lights overhead. I ignored the steady stream of guys coming and going from the locker room.
Most of all, I ignored the sting of my sweat as it slinked past the still tender bullet wound in my side. The one that had taken a harmless chunk out of me but hit someone else.
Not just hit. Destroyed. Tore through flesh and bone.
The bullet that had ended my partner’s life.
I groaned and stood up as I finished the set. After five sets of a hundred pushups, I was sweaty enough to warrant a shower. Maybe it would wake me up too.
It had been a long fucking day already and I wasn’t going home any time soon.
Not that there was anything to go home to.
Anything or anyone.
We were working round the clock to close this one out, and it still felt like we were treading water. It was a tough case that had been going on for years. A local gang was dealing guns and drugs. The body count was high.
Until they’d killed one of our own.
Gang crime was nothing new but since my partner had been killed in the line of duty, it was personal for every federal agent on the East Coast.
But mostly for me. I was consumed by the case. Consumed with finding justice.
But what I really wanted to know was why not me?
Danny was gone. I still couldn’t fucking believe it. He’d been more than my partner. He’d been my best friend.
It almost seemed disrespectful to think about it now, but Danny had been the consummate joker. He hadn’t been the best at his job, but man, the guy made me laugh.
I hadn’t laughed once in the six months since he got hit.
We’d been partnered together for years. Where I was dark, he was light. Where he had off-the-wall ideas, I did everything by the numbers. Where he had a high tolerance for paperwork, I had a photographic memory and an uncanny sense for catching killers and scum of every kind.
Where he was charming, I scared the living hell out of people.
They called me the shark because I always smelled blood in the water. And I was getting that feeling tonight. It had me on edge.
That and the nine cups of coffee I’d drank today so far. It was after five and I was still jangling. Didn’t matter though. It seemed like I slept only in short spurts these days.
Some of the guys said that was what made me such a cranky bastard. They were too smart to say what we all knew was true. They all thought I was a mean sonofabitch because I was missing Danny.
But I could have told them they were wrong.
I was just born that way.
“Another round of shots, Saph.”
“You got it.”
I didn’t smile at Jimmy. He knew I hated it when he called me Saph. It was short for Saphire, on account of my eyes. Some of the old timers called me that, but only when Mason wasn’t around.
If anyone so much as looked at me, he had a fit.
Even though he wasn’t active, he was still an Untouchable. And no one fucked with the Untouchables.
My guardian angel, the guy who had pulled me out of the rain and off the streets all those years ago, was an outlaw biker. Or he had been in his younger, wilder days.
He still looked pretty wild with his tattoos and the giant Hog he rode to and from the joint. The ride I’d taken with him for years, until I’d saved enough for an old car of my own. The rust bucket, as Mason called it. He’d taken it apart and put it back together so that it ran like a dream.