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Staring down the wrong end of the gun, Tess MacKenzie realized something she hadn't thought was possible: This lousy day could get worse.
""You heard me, lady. Hand over the cash. I know you just got paid.""
Tess tore her eyes away from the gun to the face of the man pointing it at her. The back alley of Sonny's Bar and Grill was a stupid place to be alone at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday night. Stupid, dark and smelly.
You never knew what kind of vermin you'd find crawling around. The two-legged variety she stared at now was proof-positive. She squinted at her assailant in the faint moonlight. All she could imagine was a beer keg on legsand even that was a compliment. She wondered how he'd got so round eating with just those half-dozen teeth.
She forced a casual smile. ""Sorry. Sonny said it was a slow night. He couldn't pay me and the band until tomorrow.""
Keg-on-legs snorted. ""Nice try. I saw Sonny hand ya the money, honey. Now it's mine."" His few teeth glinted as he smiled.
Tess glared at him. Damn it, she needed that three hundred bucks. The rent was due, the recording studio was holding her CD hostage for payment and her car was on its last legs.
But hey, it could be worse. She could be getting mugged by a filthy little varmint in the back alley of the tackiest gin joint in upstate New York.
""Are you gonna hand it over nice-like, or am I gonna hafta come get it from you?""
Tess shuddered at the thought. There was just enough light to see the filthy hand holding the gun, and she didn't need that hand any closer.
Grumbling, she reached into her purse to get the cash from the night's gig and vowed that this was the last time her manager was going to book something in the middle of God's country. She didn't care how desperate they were for money; from now on, she was sticking to radio appearances and recording studios.
Her hand struck something hard and cold. Hair spray. She paused. It could work. All she needed were a few seconds to duck around the side of the building and head for the all-night diner across the street.
Slowly, she wrapped her fingers around the cold metal and found its top. She swallowed hard and yanked the canister out of her bag, pushing the nozzle and aiming for the mugger's head.
Keg-on-legs jumped back, grabbing at his face where the spray stung his eyes. Tess spun and ran wildly, with Keg-on-legs swearing and stumbling behind her. He recovered quickly and moved faster then she could have imagined on those stubby legs.
Damn. She'd thought she would have more time. Oh God, don't shoot me.
By now he was cursing behind her, calling out in precise, disgusting terms just how much trouble she was going to be in when he got his hands on her.
Tess rounded the corner of the building and ran right into a big man who caught her in his arms.
Yes! Help had arrived.
""He's got a gun!"" she gasped as she glanced up into the stranger's face. If she hadn't been so pumped up with adrenaline, she would have fallen over. Wow. What good-looking cavalry. The man was tall and gorgeous with a killer smile.
Keg-on-legs rounded the corner right behind her and skidded to a halt, aiming his gun with both hands at first Tess, then the stranger. Breathing heavily, he shouted, ""Don't move, I don't wanna kill nobody. I just want the money.""
The stranger eyed him thoughtfully. Tess couldn't pull her gaze away from his shadowed face, so calm and relaxed. Didn't he realize there was a gun pointed at him? Her eyes widened. She'd almost forgottenthere was a gun pointed at her, too.
""Would you like me to neutralize him, sir?""