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Stella, Get Your Gun
By Nancy Bartholomew
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn retrospect, perhaps kidnapping Lloyd was a bad idea, not that I regret it. I most certainly do not regret kidnapping Lloyd. It improved both our lives, and I can say that in all honesty, even if my law-enforcement career and reputation have gone straight to the dogs. Before Lloyd, my life was in the toilet, so anything short of the sewer is an improvement. I know what you're thinking - how can a woman feel her life is on the upswing when she's just been shot at, arrested and thrown in jail? Trust me, compared to last week, life is most definitely looking up.
Last week I was just a junior patrol officer looking to make detective. All I wanted was my shot at the big time, and thanks to "Needle Nose" Robanski, I thought I was about to realize this lifelong ambition.
Needle Nose was on a one-man crime spree somewhere in Garden Beach, Florida. He had a nasty knack for way-laying exotic dancers, beating them beyond recognition and then finishing the job with a filet knife. I figured I was going to be the one to catch him. I guess I just didn't realize it would take more than a bottle of blond hair dye, stiletto heels and a fake leather loincloth to do the job. Undercover police work takes conviction. You have to sell yourself in your perp's world. You have to be one of them and not just pass as a cheap imitation. So I was out there, selling myself, the night old Needle Nose made his appearance.
The manager of the Solitaire Gentleman's Club, Alfonso Lewis, wasn't too pleased with my performance. He kept calling my sergeant and complaining I was bad for business, that I had no "customer service orientation." I ask you, did you ever try to conceal a microphone in a padded bra the size of a postage stamp? Do you know what it feels like to have a hard plastic button nibbling away at your right boob while you're simultaneously bending down to deliver a drink and trying to keep some jerk's hand from slipping between your legs?
It was a challenge, but I handled it because I was a professional, and because I wanted Needle Nose Robanski almost as much as I wanted the promotion that catching him would ensure.
My partner, Lou Ann Ross, called in sick that night, so the sergeant sent a rookie to man the surveillance van in the parking lot. He didn't send just any rookie, either; he sent Leon. Leon was twenty-one, maybe five foot six and weighed in at just under 130 pounds. He'd been with a training coach for three solid rotations before someone finally stuck him on our squad and warned us not to give him anything too important to do. Leon was a hair away from unemployment, and I was his last shot at redemption.
When I saw him pull up, I could only assume that catching Needle Nose must not have been too important to the Garden Beach Police Department. Covering my ass must've ranked up there with mundane chores like dispensing parking tickets. Maybe sending Leon was the depart-ment's way of saying that our undercover operation wasn't paying off. Needle Nose Robanski wasn't taking the bait and had probably left town.
Still, when I stepped out onto the loading dock of the club a little after 1:00 a.m., I assumed Leon had me covered. I needed a break. I'd just come close to committing a vicious assault of my own, and had Alfonso not been tailing me like a bird dog, I might've gotten away with more than just teaching my nasty little customer a few things about respect and anatomy.
I slipped out the back door, shutting it firmly behind me, and paused to catch my breath. "Leon," I said softly, believing he was secure in his listening post across the lot, "I'm taking a break. I'm gonna sit in my car and eat a sandwich."
I stood there for another moment or two, scanning the lot, and then headed down the steps. It was a beautiful fall night, with a clear sky and bright stars. Living on the Florida Panhandle was heaven to a displaced Yankee. I let myself relax a little. I got careless and that was all it took. Needle Nose caught me off guard just as I inserted the key into the driver's side door. He slammed me into the hard metal of my car and clamped his thick hand over my mouth.
"Don't fucking move or I'll cut you," he said. To make sure I took him seriously, he jabbed the tip of his knife into my side, the cold metal nicking my bare skin and drawing a thin trickle of blood.
A surge of adrenaline hit me, dead center in my chest, sucking my heart up into my throat. This was it, the real thing, the moment I'd trained for - a face-to-face encounter with a bad guy. Needle Nose was huge compared to me. He must've outweighed me by seventy pounds and had a good eight inches on my five feet four inches. To make matters worse, he had bad breath and a weapon. I would've given anything for my Glock.
I waited for Leon, hoping he'd left the tape running in the camera and on the recorder. I listened hard for the sound of the van door opening but heard nothing. Needle Nose pulled me back against his chest, one arm wrapped around my neck while his other hand held the knife against my exposed skin. He twisted away from the vehicle and began moving toward the Dumpster, half pushing and half dragging me with him.
I knew what would come next; I'd read all the reports. It was always the same M.O. He would take me behind the trash bin, slit my clothes off, rape me, beat me and then cut me beyond all recognition. Good thing I had the full support of the Garden Beach Police Department behind me; otherwise, I might've been in trouble.
When Needle Nose rounded the trash bin, I decided not to count on backup. It was time to make my move. Unfortunately, he made his move first. He slipped his knife up behind my bra strap and sliced it cleanly before I could react or even really process what he'd done. It was too late to stop and regroup; I was already taking action, faking a stumble to the left. His knife hand flew out to the side as he cut the strap. He was forced to try to grab me with his left hand.
I used his own momentum to duck back under him, grabbing his wrist as I went, twisting and jerking his arm up as hard as I could. I was rewarded with the sound of ripping tendons and ligaments, followed by a sharp scream of pain as Needle Nose fell forward and I landed on top of him.
I hung on to his thick wrist as he bucked like a bronco. I was riding him and trying to drive the heel of my stiletto into his knife hand when Leon finally materialized.
"Stop!" he cried in his squeaky adolescent voice. "Garden Beach Police! Stop or I'll shoot!"
Excerpted from Stella, Get Your Gun by Nancy Bartholomew Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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