My 60th Book for Harlequin!
KANSAS CITY COP
Copyright ©2018 by Julie Miller
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.
Coming February 20th in digital; March 1st in print (earlier to Harlequin subscribers and on the Harlequin website)
Gina simply reacted, putting herself between the frightened woman and the red-faced man. There was no time to wonder how the drunk had gotten away from Derek. She ducked beneath the attacker’s fist, kicked out with her leg, tripped the big brute, then caught his arm and twisted it behind his back, following him down to the floor. Before his chin smacked the linoleum, she had her knee in his back, pinning him in place.
"He's too big for the damn cuffs," Derek shouted, running in behind the perp. He knelt on the opposite side, catching the loose chain that was only connected to one wrist.
Gordon Bismarck writhed beneath her, trying to wrestle himself free. His curses switched from Vicki to Gina to women in general. Locking her own handcuffs around his free arm, Gina twisted his wrist and arm another notch until he yelped. “Don’t make me mad, Mr. Bismarck. Your buddies outside already put me in a mood.”
The mention of his friends sparked a new protest. “Denny! Al! Jim! I need—”
“Uh-uh.” She pushed his cheek back to the floor. “They went bye-bye. Now you lie here like a good boy while my partner walks you out to the squad car so you can sober up and chill that temper.”
“My boys left?”
“That’s right, Gordy.” Derek wiped a dribble of blood from beneath his nose while Gina locked the ends of both cuffs together, securing him. “You’re on your own.”
“I don’t want him touchin’ me,” Gordy protested. “I don’t want him in my house.”
“Not your choice.” Gina stayed on top of the captive, her muscles straining to subdue him until he gave up the fight. She glanced up at Derek, assessing his injury. Other than the carpet lint clinging to his dark uniform from a tussle of some kind, he wasn’t seriously hurt. Still, she kept her voice calm and firm, trying to reassure Vicki that they could keep her safe. “You got him okay ?”
“I got him. Thanks for the save. I didn't realize the cuff wasn't completely closed around his fat wrist, and I ended up with an elbow in my face.” Derek pulled the man to his feet, his bruised ego making him a little rough as he shoved Bismarck toward the front door. “Forget the coat. Now we can add assaulting a police officer to your charges. Come on, you lousy son of a…”
The door banged shut as Derek muscled Bismarck outside. Gina inhaled several deep breaths, cooling her own adrenaline rush. She watched from the foyer until she saw her partner open the cruiser and unceremoniously dump the perp into the back seat. Only after Derek had closed the door and turned to lean his hip against the fender did she breathe a sigh of relief. The situation was finally secure.
When he pulled out a cigarette and started to light it, Gina muttered a curse beneath her breath. She immediately thumbed the radio clipped to the shoulder of her uniform. “Derek,” she chided, wanting to warn him it was too soon to let down his guard. “Call the sit-rep in to Dispatch , and tell them we’ll be bringing in the suspect. I’ll finish getting the victim’s statement.”
“Chill, G. Let a man catch his breath.” He lit the cigarette and exhaled a puff before answering. “Roger that.”
Gina shook her head. She supposed that losing control of the perp had not only dinged his ego but also rattled him. Maybe she should have a low-key chat with her partner. Aiming for fifth place wasn’t going to get the job done. If he didn’t light a fire under his butt and start showing all the ways he could excel at being a cop, Captain Cutler might cut him from the SWAT candidate list altogether.
But she had more pressing responsibilities to attend to right now than to play the bossy big sister role with her partner and nudge Derek Johnson toward success. After softly closing the front door on the cold and the visual of Gordon Bismarck spewing vitriol in the back seat of the cruiser while Derek smacked the window and warned him to be quiet, Gina pulled out her phone again and returned to the kitchen. She found Vicki making a token effort to clean up some of the mess.
“Is he gone?” the woman asked in a tired voice. Although the tears had stopped, her eyes were an unnaturally bright shade of green from all her crying.
“He’s locked in the back of the police cruiser, and I sent his friends away. He won’t get to you again. Not today. Not while I’m here.”
“Thank you.” Vicki dropped a broken plate into the trash. “And Derek’s okay?”
“Officer Johnson.” A blush tinted Vicki’s pale cheeks. “I thought maybe Gordy thought…having another man in the house…” She shrugged off the rambling explanation. “I remember you two from the last time you were here. So does Gordy.”
“I’m sure Officer Johnson will be fine. May I?” Gina held up her phone and, at Vicki’s nod, snapped a couple of photos of the woman’s injuries and sent them to her computer at work. “I’ll need them to file my report.”
“What if I refuse to press charges?” Vicki asked. “Gordy’s friends might come back, even if he’s not here. Denny’s his big brother. He looks out for him.”
Reminding herself that she hadn’t lived Vicki Bismarck’s life, and that the other woman probably had had the skills and confidence to cope with a situation like this beaten and terrorized out of her by now, Gina took a towel and filled it with some ice from the freezer. “I still have to take Mr. Bismarck in because he resisted arrest and assaulted an officer. And he’s clearly violated his restraining order.” She pressed the ice pack to Vicki’s elbow and nodded toward the abrasion on her cheek. “You should get those injuries checked out by a doctor. Would you like me to call an ambulance?”
Vicki shook her head. “I can’t afford that.”
“How about I call another officer to take you to the ER? Or I can come back once we get your husband processed.”
“No. No more cops, please.” Vicki sank into a chair and rested her elbow on the table. “It just makes Gordy mad.”
“What set him off this time?” Not that it mattered. Violence like this was never acceptable. But if Gina could get the victim talking, she might get some useful information to help get the repeat offender off the street and out of his wife’s life. “I could smell the alcohol on him.”
“He’s been sleeping at Denny’s house.” Gina pulled out her notepad and jotted the name and information. “Gordy’s been out of work for a while. Got laid off at the fertilizer plant. And I haven’t been working long enough to get paid yet. I asked him if he’d picked up his unemployment check. He said he’d help me with groceries.”
“And that set him off?”
“He doesn’t like to talk about money. But no, as soon as I opened the door, he started yelling at me. Denny had said he saw me talking to another man.” Vicki shrugged, then winced at the movement. “I just started a job at the convenience store a couple blocks from here. Guys come in, you know. I have to talk to them when I ring them up. I guess Denny told Gordy I was flirting.”
Gina bit back her opinion of Gordy Bismarck’s obsession and maintained a cool facade. “When was the last time you ate?” If the woman needed money for groceries, Gina guessed it had been a while. She unzipped another pocket in her vest and pulled out an energy bar, pushing it into the woman’s hand. “Here.” She pulled out a business card for the local women’s shelter as well, and handed it to Vicky. “You get hungry again, you go here, not to Gordy. They’ll help you get groceries at the food pantry. Mention my name and they’ll even sneak you an extra chocolate bar.”
Finally, that coaxed a smile from the frightened woman. “I haven’t eaten real chocolate in months. Sounds heavenly.”
After answering a few more details about her relationship with Gordon and her injuries, Gina wrapped up the interview.
“You need to be checked out by a doctor,” she reiterated. “Sooner rather than later. Do you have a friend who can take you to the hospital or your regular doctor?”
“I can call my sister. She keeps nagging me to move in with her and her husband.”
“Good.” Gina handed Vicki her phone. “Why don’t you go ahead and do that while I’m here.”
Vicki hesitated. “Will Gordy be back when I get home?”
“I can keep him locked up for up to forty-eight hours—longer if he doesn’t make bail.” Gina had a feeling Vicki’s husband would be locked up for considerably longer than that but didn’t want to guarantee anything she couldn’t back up. “We can send a car through the neighborhood to periodically to watch if his brother and friends come back. See a doctor. Go to your sister’s, and get a good night’s sleep. Call the shelter, and get the help you need.”
“Thank you.” Vicki punched in her sister’s phone number and smiled again. “That was sweet to see you take Gordy down—and you aren’t any bigger than I am. Maybe I should learn some of those moves.”
Gina smiled back and pulled out her own business card. “It’s all about attitude. Here. Call me when you’re feeling up to it. A few other officers and I teach free self-defense training sessions.”
Although Vicki didn’t look entirely convinced that she could learn to stand up for herself, at least she had made arrangements with her sister and brother-in-law to stay with them for a few nights by the time Gina was closing the front door behind her and heading down the front walk toward the street. What passed for sunshine on the wintry day was fading behind the evening clouds that rolled across the sky and promised another dusting of snow. Despite the layers of the sweater, flak vest and long-sleeved uniform she wore, Gina shivered at the prospect of spring feeling so far out of reach.
Ignoring the glare of blurry-eyed contempt aimed at her from the back seat of the cruiser, Gina arched a questioning eyebrow at Derek. “Bismarck didn’t hurt you, did he?”
Derek massaged the bridge of his nose that was already bruising and circled around the car as she approached. “Just my pride. I don’t even know if the guy meant to clock me. But I was on the floor, and he was on his way to the kitchen before my eyes stopped watering.”
“Just don’t tell anybody that a drunk got the upper hand on me and you had to save my ass. I don’t imagine that would impress Captain Cutler.”
“We’re a team, Derek. We help each other out.”
“And keep each other’s secrets?”
“Something like that.”
His laughter obscured his face with a cloud of warm breath in the chilly air. “Now I really owe you that cup of hot coffee.” Her aversion to the cold weather was hardly a secret compared to his possible incompetence in handling the suspect. Maybe her partner wasn’t ready for the demands of the promotion. He pulled open his door. “Come on. Let’s get you warmed up—”
The sharp crack of gunfire exploded in the cold air.
Derek’s green eyes widened with shock for a split second before he crumpled to the pavement. “Derek!”
A second bullet thwacked against the shatterproof glass of the windshield. A third whizzed past her ear and shattered the glass in Vicki Bismarck’s storm door. Gina pulled the Glock at her hip and dove the last few feet toward the relative shelter of the car. A stinging shot of lead or shrapnel burned through her calf, and she stumbled into the snow beside the curb.
Where were the damn shots coming from? Who was shooting? Had Denny Bismarck come back? She hadn’t heard a motorcycle on the street. But then, he hadn’t been alone either.
“Derek? I need you to talk to me.” There was still no answer. Bullets hit the cruiser and a tree trunk in the front yard. Several more shots scuffed through the snow with such rapidity that she knew the shooter either had an automatic weapon or several weapons that he could drop and keep firing. Gina crouched beside the wheel well, listening for the source of the ambush, praying there were no innocent bystanders in the line of fire. The bullets were coming from across the street. But from a house? An alley? A car?
“Derek?” The amount of blood seeping down her leg into her shoe told her the shooter was using something large caliber, meant to inflict maximum damage. But her wound was just a graze. She could still do her job. Before she sidled around the car to pull her partner to safety, Gina got on her radio and called it in. “This is Officer Galvan. Unit 4-13. Officers need assistance. Shots fired.” She gave the street address and approximation of where she thought the shooter might be before repeating the urgent request, “Officers need assistance.”
Gina stilled her breath and heard Gordon Bismarck cussing up a blue streak inside the cruiser. She’d heard Vicki screaming inside the house. What she didn’t hear was her partner. Guilt and fear punched her in the stomach. She hadn’t done job one and kept him safe. She hadn’t had his back when he needed her most.
“Derek?” she called out one more time before cradling the gun in her hands. When she heard the unexpected pause between gunshots, she crept around the trunk of the car, aiming her weapon toward the vague target of the shooter.
“Police! Throw down your weapon!” she warned.
A quick scan revealed empty house, empty alley, empty house…bingo! Driver in a rusty old SUV parked half a block down. Gina straightened. “Throw down your weapon, and get out of the vehicle!”
The man’s face was obscured by the barrel of the rifle pointed at her.
There was no mistaking his intent.
Gina squeezed off a shot and dove for cover, but it was too late.
A bullet struck her in the arm, tearing through her right shoulder, piercing the narrow gap between her arm and her protective vest. She hit the ground, and her gun skittered from her grip. Unlike the graze along the back of her leg, she knew this wound was a bad one. The path of the bullet burned through her shoulder.
She clawed her fingers into the hardened layers of snow and crawled back into the yard, away from the shooter. It was hard to catch her breath, hard to orient herself in a sea of clouds and snow. She rolled onto her back, praying she wasn’t imagining the sound of sirens in the distance, hating that she was certain of the grinding noise of the SUV’s engine turning over.
She saw Vicki Bismarck hovering at her broken front door. When Gina turned her head the other direction, she looked beneath the car and saw Derek on the ground, unmoving. Was he even alive? “Derek?”
Did someone have a grudge against him? Against her? Against cops? She hadn’t made any friends among Denny Bismarck and his crew. Was this payback for arresting his brother? For being bested by a woman?
Her shoulder ached, and her right arm was numb. Her chest felt like a boulder sat on it. Still, she managed to reach her radio with her other hand and tug it off her vest. The shooter’s car was speeding away. She couldn’t see much from her vantage point, couldn’t read the license plate or confirm a make of vehicle. The leg wound stung like a hot poker through her calf, but the wound to her shoulder—the injury she could no longer feel—worried her even more. Finding that one spot beneath her armor was either one hell of a lucky shot or the work of a sharpshooter. Gina’s vision blurred as a chill pervaded her body.
“Stay inside the house!” a man yelled. “Away from the windows.”
She saw silver running pants and black shoes stomping through the snow toward her. Gina tried to find her gun.
“Officer?” The tall jogger with the sexy beard scruff came into view as he knelt in the snow beside her. “It’s okay, ma’am.” His eyes were hidden behind reflective sunglasses, and he clutched a cell phone to his ear, allowing her few details as to what he looked like. He picked up her Glock from the snow where it had landed and showed it to her before tucking it into the back of his waistband. “Your weapon is secure.”
She slapped her left hand against his knee and pulled at the insulated material there. “You have to stay down. Shooter—”
“He’s driving away,” the man said. She wasn’t exactly following the conversation, but then he was talking on his cell phone as he leaned over her, running his free hand up and down her arms and legs. “No, I couldn’t read the license. It was covered with mud and slush. Yes, just the driver. Look, I’ll answer your questions later. Just get an ambulance here. Now!” He disconnected the call and stuffed the phone inside his pocket. He tossed aside his sunglasses and looked down into her eyes. Wow. He was just as good-looking up close as he’d been from a distance. “You hit twice?”
Gina nodded, thinking more about her observation than her answer. She reached up and touched her shaking fingertips to the sandpapery stubble that shadowed his jaw. “I know you.” Before her jellified brain could place why he looked so familiar to her, he grabbed her keys off her belt and bolted to his feet. She turned her head to watch him unlock the trunk to get the med kit. How did he know it was stored there? He was acting like a cop—he’d provided the squad car number and street address on that phone call. He knew KCPD lingo and where her gear was stowed. “Captain Cutler?” That wasn’t right. But the blue eyes and chiseled features were the same. But she’d never seen the SWAT captain with that scruffy catnip on his face.
She wasn’t any closer to understanding what she was seeing when he knelt beside her again, opening the kit and pulling out a compress. She winced as he slipped the pad beneath her vest and pressed his hand against her wound to stanch the bleeding. The deep, sure tone of voice was a little like catnip to her groggy senses, too. “I’m Mike Cutler. I’ve had paramedic training. Lie still.”
Why were her hormones involved in any of this conversation? She squeezed her eyes shut to concentrate. She was a KCPD police officer. She’d been shot. The perp had gotten away. There was protocol to follow. She had a job to do. Gina opened her eyes, gritting her teeth against the pressure on her chest and the fog inside her head. “Check my partner. He’s hit.”
“You’re losing blood too fast. I’m not going anywhere until I slow the bleeding.” The brief burst of clarity quickly waned. The Good Samaritan trying to save her life tugged on her vest the moment her eyes closed. “Officer Galvan? No, no, keep your eyes open. What’s your first name?”
“Gina?” He was smiling when she blinked her eyes open. “That’s better. Pretty brown eyes. Like a good cup of coffee. I want to keep seeing them, okay?” She nodded. His eyes were such a pretty color. No, not pretty. There wasn’t anything pretty about the angles of his cheekbones and jaw. He certainly wasn’t from this part of town. She’d have remembered a face like that. A face that was still talking. “Trust me. I’m on your side. If I look familiar, it’s because you’re a cop, and you probably know my dad.”
Mike Cutler. My dad. Gina’s foggy brain cleared with a moment of recognition. “Captain Cutler? Oh, God. I’m interviewing with him… Don’t tell him I got shot, okay?” But he’d left her. Gina called out in a panic. “Cutler?”
“I’m here.” Her instinct to exhale with relief ended up in a painful fit of coughing. “Easy. Easy. I was just checking your partner.”
“How is he?”
“Unconscious. As far as I can tell he has a gunshot wound to the arm. But he may have hit his head on the door frame or pavement. His nose is bruised.”
“That was…before.” She tried to point to the house.
The words to explain the incident with Gordon Bismarck were lost in the fog of her thoughts. But her training was clear. Derek was shot. And she had a job to do.
“The prisoner?” Gina tried to roll over and push herself up, but she couldn’t seem to get her arm beneath her. The snow and clouds and black running shoes all swirled together inside her head.
“Easy, Gina. I need you to lie still. An ambulance is on its way. You’ve injured your shoulder, and I don’t see an exit wound. If that bullet is still inside you, I don’t want it traveling anywhere.” He unzipped his jacket and shrugged out of it. He draped the thin, insulated material over her body, gently but securely tucking her in, surrounding her with the residual warmth from his body and the faint, musky scent of his workout. “The guy in the back seat is loud, but unharmed. The lady at the front door looks scared, but she isn’t shot. Lie down. You’re going into shock.” He pulled her radio from beneath the jacket and pressed the call button. “Get that bus to …” Gina’s vision blurred as he rattled off the address. “Stay with me. Gina?” His warm hand cupped her face, and she realized just how cold she was. She wished she could wrap her whole body up in that kind of heat. She looked up into his stern expression. “Stay with me.”
“What?” Her eyelids drifted shut. “Gina!”
The last thing she saw was her blood seeping into the snow. The last thing she felt was the man’s strong hands pressing against her breast and shoulder. The last thing she heard was his voice on her radio.
“Officer down! I repeat: officer down!”