Dani’s hand shook as she removed the clasp on the briefcase strap. The bag hung heavy in her grip. The contents had cost Pat Sylvester his life. It was about to cost hers and Ryan’s, too.
“I’m so sorry you got twisted up in this, Ryan.” Her voice was hot in her throat. She placed the briefcase on the ground at her feet. What was her choice? None. Harris had his gun and the SUV’s searchlight took away any other details from her surroundings. The other pistol was somewhere under the cars parked at her back. The oncoming sirens were too far away.
“I’m not sorry.” Ryan stood firm, shoulders squared as he faced Harris. “I’m right where I need to be.”
She kicked the briefcase and it slid to within a few feet of the killer.
“There are no negotiations now.” Harris didn’t even look at the briefcase. He raised the pistol.
Dani clenched her jaw, prepared for pain, but determined not to die. Only one chance that she could think of. But she had to try something. Anything.
“We’re not done.” She spoke only for Ryan in a low voice.
“I’ll never quit on you.” He kept facing Harris, but tilted his head to her in understanding.
Harris could fire any second. One rushed heartbeat took her to the brink, and she leaped. Sprawling to her left, she knocked along the side of a parked car, wrenched the side-view mirror off and pulled it into her grip. She swung it around and caught the searchlight. Harris fired into the fender of the car where she’d just stood. Before he could get a second shot off, she reflected the searchlight directly into his eyes.
Harris winced, closing his eyes and turning from the blinding light. Ryan jumped at the opening and quickly chopped his hand down into Harris’s forearm. The gun hit the ground. Ryan twisted Harris’s arm up under his and turned hard. The snap of the bone echoed through the street, taken over by the cry of pain from Harris.
Exclamations erupted from the men in the SUV and the searchlight quickly turned off. Whatever was next from them wouldn’t be good. Dani surged forward and picked up Harris’s fallen pistol and aimed it at the windshield of the dark vehicle.
Harris dropped to his knees, holding his broken arm close to his body. Ryan stood over him, ready, but the killer was clearly shut down, in shock and no longer a threat.
The SUV lurched into Reverse. Dani tightened her finger on the trigger. Maybe a shot into the grille would disable the engine. The thought of shooting at another human made her stomach turn. She didn’t have to decide. Two police cars sped around the corner and onto the street, blocking the SUV’s escape. Two more arrived at the far intersection, boxing everyone in.
Light bars flashed. Crisscrossed searchlights turned the early morning into day. Several uniformed officers approached cautiously, their sidearms drawn. Commands to put her pistol down combined with other directives for the people in the SUV to get out slowly.
Dani lowered the gun, placed it carefully on the ground and stepped backward. Ryan was immediately at her side. A dry breath shuddered through her. He brought their bodies together, her shoulder against his chest, and she could feel how he still vibrated with the aftermath of the danger.
“I’m not going to quit on you,” he said, lacing his fingers with hers.
“I told you we weren’t done.” She stared into his serious eyes, saw the spark in there and knew the two of them could find the fire they made together again.
Ryan stayed next to her but turned toward the police officers when they approached Harris. “He needs an ambulance.”
The officers nodded and waved the emergency medical services people closer. The men from the SUV were already handcuffed and walking to the open back seats of police cars.
“What the hell did you do out here, Kimura? Dani?” Ellis, her cousin who’d grown up four houses away, approached wearing an EMT uniform.
Dani picked up her briefcase as Ryan ignored the question and told Ellis, “There’s another injury in the north hills a few miles west of the highway, not far from my busted truck. But make sure whoever goes out there has a police unit with them. The man has deep lacerations, but might still be armed.”
“Got it.” Ellis backed off toward a makeshift command center that had cropped up at the hood of a police car, speaking as he went, “But when this is all clear, you’re both spilling all the details.”
Ryan gave him a wave and Dani nodded. Ellis passed Captain Sarah Gold, who was out of uniform and with a hasty auburn ponytail but still carried her authority. The woman, a little older than Dani, shook her head in disbelief as she took in the scene around them.
“I thought you were a corporate lawyer,” she said while looking over Dani with the eyes of a friend rather than an official.
“Reevaluating that right now.” Dani opened her briefcase and took out the weighty packet. “This is evidence tying Stanley Miller to international tech smuggling. A man named Pat Sylvester sent it to me, then was killed in a hit-and-run. I’ll bet these men tonight know all about that, too.” She handed the packet to Sarah. “You’re the only one I’m willing to hand this to.”
“I will personally scan backups and get everything to the necessary, and trusted, departments.” Sarah spoke with the gravity of the evidence she held. “Are you guys alright?”
“Yeah.” Dani nodded. Scraped and bruised, but alive.
“I’m good.” Ryan remained close at Dani’s side.
“Your cars are both out of commission, right?” Sarah asked. “Where can we take you?”
Dani answered first. “We need a ride to Ryan’s place.”
“We do?” There was that fire in his eyes.
“We need a shower,” she answered. “And to talk about that job I might be taking at the college, and the pro bono work that’s going to take up a lot of my time.”
“But not all of your time.” A grin grew on Ryan’s face.
Sarah backed away slowly with a discreet smile. “I’ll see what we can do about that ride.”
And then the two of them were alone amid the activity of police and EMTs. Ryan took both her hands in his and faced her. Their clothes were a mess, and they smelled of mud and the dirt of the forest. Ryan leaned his scratched and smudged face toward her, and it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. She closed her eyes and soaked in the touch of his rough fingers and the firm chest against hers. Their lips met in a quiet kiss. Through all the chaos of the night, they were still alive and unbroken. The spark of their connection continued, even after they parted.
“So it took professional killers chasing you to get back to me?” Ryan rested his hands on her hips.
“I think I was already on my way back.” They leaned on each other as police cars and an ambulance drove off with the men who’d tried to kill them. “It just sped up the process.”
She and Ryan kissed again, proving that a year apart was far too long. She was exhausted; each heartbeat throbbed through her body. At the same time she was stronger than ever, knowing she was back home, in her town with Ryan, and that justice had been served.
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