Stop kicking, Pix,” I hissed as I shut and locked her bedroom door behind us.
I released my flailing fiancée, and she spun around to face me. She was wearing the pink cocktail dress that I’d personally picked out because it clung to her curves in all the right places. Her hair was secured in a high, platinum ponytail with strands escaping everywhere. Her glasses were a spring green that only served to make her eyes look brighter. There was a bloody gash on her jawline.
“I’m going to fucking kill him,” I announced. Rage bloomed inside me like a deadly flower.
Sloane lunged for me and held on tight. “You can’t. It’s Wylie.”
“I know. I saw the security footage just before it cut off.”
“He made me think he was going to help me. Then he shot the judge. Oh yeah. The judge was here too, but I think he’s dead in the foyer. And then he tried to shoot me. Wylie, not the dead judge. And he’s the one who put Nash’s name on the list, not Dilton. Oh my God, and he murdered Dilton to keep him quiet, not to save Nash. I am so pissed! Do you know how long it’s going to take to get bloodstains out of hardwood? And they burned my library!”
The words came out in a deluge of indignation, but her explanation only served to light a match inside me.
“You can’t hide from me long enough to stay alive, Sloane. I’ll drop you where I find you before the cops get here,” Wylie announced from the hallway. We heard the clomp of his boots and the creak of doors as he started checking rooms.
In the distance, I heard sirens. I’d just pulled into the driveway when I heard the gunshots. It had taken years off my life.
I grabbed a clean handkerchief from the dresser and pressed it to Sloane’s face.
“Come on, baby.” I half dragged, half carried her to the window seat.
She eagerly climbed onto the cushion and swung a leg over the sill of the window I’d left open. “Let’s go,” she said.
I shook my head. “You go first. I’ll make sure he doesn’t see you on the roof.”
She flinched. “Lucian.”
The footsteps were getting closer, and that lock on the door wouldn’t hold back an overly excited golden retriever.
“I’m not leaving you,” she said stubbornly.
I cupped her face in my hands. “Pixie, I need you to trust me this time. Trust me to handle this. I’m asking you, but in a second, I’m going to be telling you. I need to deal with this, and I can’t do it if I’m worried that he has a clear shot at you. Trust me to do this.”
The doorknob rattled, followed by Wylie’s raspy cackle. “I know you’re in there, girl.”
“Ugh. Fine. But I’m also trusting you not to murder him,” Sloane said.
“I’m not promising that.”
She swung her leg over the windowsill. “Don’t let me down.”
“Oh, also, he has two guns. His and the judge’s. He was going to make it look like he caught the judge murdering me.”
The sirens were screaming down the street now, and an anger unlike any other I’d ever known tinged everything a bloody-murder red.
I shoved her out the window onto the roof. “I love you. Now get the fuck out.”
“I love you too. Don’t end up in jail,” she whispered.
I shut the curtains on her just as a boot landed a hard kick to the door. It flew open on the second kick, rebounding off the wall as I hurried across the room and flattened myself against the wall.
The barrel of a gun with a silencer came into view. “Come out, come out, wherever you—”
I brought my arm down on his in a fast, sweeping arc. My forearm connected with his. I grabbed him and dragged him farther into the room.
“Son of a bitch!”
“More like son of a bastard,” I snarled back as we wrestled for the gun.
“Your dad was a good man. You were just a no-good brat who thought he was better than everybody.”
“I was better than him. You took everything from me once. I won’t let it happen again, old man.” I threw an elbow to his jaw, and he howled in pain. The gun tumbled to the floor, and I kicked it toward the bed. “You hurt her. You threatened her, burned down her library, and you made her bleed,” I roared over the sirens.
His eyes were a bloodshot blue and desperate. “You should have stayed out of this. Neither one of you needed to get involved.”
“And you should have gone to fucking jail instead of me, asshole. I’m going to make sure everyone who’s ever heard your name knows exactly what kind of man you are.”
He pushed me back two steps, and I let him. I heard feet pounding on the stairs. But this was between him and me.
“Better get those hands up so the chief can cuff you. I’ve been looking forward to this perp walk,” I taunted.
In a move impressively fast for an asshole of his age, Wylie reached behind him and pulled the second gun. But I was already on the move.
He pulled the trigger just as the first cop hit the second floor. I dodged to the side and kept coming like a freight train.
I drew my fist back and let it fly. It connected with his jaw, and Wylie Ogden crumpled like he was made of paper.
The gun was right there. I could pick it up and put an end to him, to all the pain he’d caused over the course of his lifetime. But I was better than that. I was better than men like Ogden and my father. I had Sloane to prove it. I had a lifetime with her ahead of me, and nothing was going to endanger that.
Nash entered the room, weapon drawn, vest on over what looked like a decent suit. “Suspect is down,” he reported into his radio as he eyed me. “We good?”
I nodded curtly. “Yeah.”
“Thank Christ. I didn’t want the paperwork on this.”
“You might want to let him wake up before you personally slap the cuffs on him. He put your name on the list, not Dilton.”
“Fucker,” Nash muttered. “He’s lucky Lina’s not here. Hey, you’re bleeding.”
“Lucian!” A blond and pink blur flew at me, and Sloane launched herself into my arms.
“Go easy on him, Sloaney,” Nash instructed. “He’s shot.”
“He shot you?” She tried to wriggle free.
“Where do you think you’re going?” I demanded.
“I’m going to kill him,” she announced, heading for the door.
I nipped her around the waist and pulled her back.
“No, you’re not. I don’t want our first time post-vasectomy reversal to be in a conjugal trailer.”
She growled in response. Laughing, I carried her to the porch swing where EMTs converged on us.
“She wouldn’t let us fix her up until you came out,” the first explained as he began to clean Sloane’s wound. She winced and I anchored her to my side.
“Are you okay? Does it hurt?” I asked gruffly.
“Only when I smile, which is going to suck for tomorrow when two of our best friends get married.”
“I hate when you hurt,” I confessed.
“I’m not too fond of you having a gunshot wound, big guy.”
I dropped a kiss on the top of her head.
“I have bad news,” Sloane said, plucking at the skirt of her dress.
“Besides my dress being ruined, it looks like one of the shots went through the window in Dad’s study and hit the lower branch of the cherry tree. It broke when I climbed down.”
It looked as though we all would be carrying the scars from this day.
“We’ll fix it,” I promised her. If I had to call in a team of fucking tree surgeons, there was no way I was going to let evil and greed destroy something so precious to me.
“This is a clean through-and-through,” said the other EMT as she examined my wound. “An inch or two higher and we’d have had a real problem.”
Sloane clung to my hand in silence as they patched us up.
The street was blocked by emergency vehicles, but a crowd of bystanders was already gathering.
Knox, Naomi, Waylay, Lina, Stef, and Jeremiah were crowded together on the other side of the police barricades in their rehearsal dinner finery. Most of the rest of Knockemout had shown up too and watched as a groggy Wylie Ogden was led down the driveway into the back seat of a waiting patrol car.
A circle closed along with the car door, I thought with satisfaction.
“You two stay here. Bannerjee will be back to take your statements,” Sergeant Hopper instructed us.
I expected to feel a sense of victory as the man who’d nearly ruined my life faced humiliation and the end of his life as he knew it. Instead, I felt a wave of frustration at the pointlessness of it all. Greed didn’t just destroy the greedy. No. The quest for power corrupted, ruining all it touched. Men like my father, like Hugo and Ogden and Atkins, left a path of destruction behind them. For what? Money? Power? Respect?
They’d been the things I’d chased too. But no dollar amount could compare to the woman in my arms.
A squealing of tires drew my attention, and I watched as Nolan drove right up onto the sidewalk and vaulted out of an SUV. He hustled up the porch steps two at a time, then froze when he saw me. “Thank fucking, Christ!” he said, slapping a hand over his heart, and then he proceeded to tackle hug me on the swing.
Sloane’s laughter was music to my ears.
“Ouch! I’m shot, not dead, and you’re not a golden retriever. Get the hell off me,” I complained.
Nolan winced, still holding on to me. “I’d let go if I could, but I got airsick in that fucking whirlybird. I don’t know if I’m gonna puke or pass out.”
“I don’t care which one you do. Just don’t do it on me.”
“I’ve got this,” Sloane said, rising from the swing and putting an arm around Nolan. “Come on. Let’s see if Naomi has any snacks in her purse. That’ll make you feel better.”
Nolan looked back at me. “Glad you’re not dead, boss.”
“That makes two of us,” I agreed.
I watched my fiancée lead Nolan to the barricades and deliver him to our friends. Sloane was immediately engulfed in worried hugs but valiantly fought her way out of them and returned to me.
I held out my arms, and she dropped into my lap, resting her bandaged face on my chest as chaos reigned around us. I pushed off with my foot and set the swing in gentle motion.
She held up her hand and studied her engagement ring. “Thanks for not going all homicidal on Wylie.”
“Thank you for trusting me…and for warning me about the second gun.”
She snuggled closer to my side and let out a satisfied sigh. “You don’t think this whole gunshot wound thing is going to push back sexy time even further, do you?”
“If we didn’t have law enforcement crawling all over our house and a wedding rehearsal to attend, I’d have you naked right now.”