Is an independent cop the best family man?
Niall MacLachlan's one priority is the law. He fought his way from the wrong side of the tracks to earn his badge and won't jeopardize it for anything. After all, trusting his family nearly cost him everything as a kid. So, no. This loner has no desire for a wife and children to call his own.
So why is his entirely too attractive landlady, Rowan Staley, slipping past all his defenses?
She and her young familycomplete with noisy dogare everything Niall thinks he doesn't want. But he can't keep his distance when she turns to him for protection from a neighborhood threat. And in the end, letting her go might be impossible.
About the Author
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Maybe if I went back to bed and started over.
Detective Niall MacLachlan looked down at the dead body sprawled on the kitchen floor and knew that no do-over was possible.
The body was not a murder victim. It was the corporeal shell of his landlady.
He attempted no resuscitation. He knew dead when he saw dead. Rigor mortis had set in. The old lady must have gotten up during the night. Niall knew she hadn't been sleeping well. Heartburn, she'd told him, but she kept nitroglycerin at hand.
This wasn't what you'd call a tragedy. Enid Cooper had turned eighty-eight in April. She'd lost two inches in height from crumbling bones and had confessed to Niall that she hurt all the time. Her worst fear had been ending up in a nursing home.
Maybe, he thought, her last emotion had been relief. He'd like to think so.
She had family who would mourn, he guessed. He didn't know them, had been careful to avoid any introductions, but he'd seen a young woman with two little kids come and go. She'd mowed the lawn this spring and summer. Niall had kept his distance, but had paused a couple of times to admire her. She was a small, curvy package with fabulous legs. She was also, however, a mother and likely a wife. He suspected she would be Enid's heir, too.
Which made Enid's decision to kick the bucket very bad news for him. He was a selfish son of a bitch to be thinking about himself right now, but he had time to kill while he waited for the appropriate authority to take over. Beyond tugging down the hem of Enid's nightgown so that her birdlike, liver-spotted legs were decently covered, there wasn't anything he could do for her.
He'd signed a new one-year lease not six weeks ago. This would be his second year living in the tiny cottage tucked on the back of the large lot, behind Enid's 1940sera bungalow. Living here had worked out fine for him. Enid ignored him and didn't mind that he ignored her. She was deaf as a post and didn't like to be bothered with her hearing aid, which she said whined. Niall played the bagpipe. Your average landlord or landlady did not consider him an ideal tenant. Enid and he were a match made in heaven. He didn't like to think what was going to happen now.
A uniformed officer arrived and Niall explained that he'd come to check on Enid because the kitchen light wasn't on. This time of the morning, she would have long since had breakfast and tea. Enid tended to linger over her tea. He'd knocked on the back door, gotten no response and felt enough alarm he'd gone back to his cottage to get the key she had given him in case of emergency.
"I'd hate to die and not be found for so long I shrivelled up like a mummy," she'd told him. "I don't much like that idea. So if you don't see me around, feel free to check."
He could do that. She'd asked little enough of him.
Rental payment once a monthwhich he deposited directly into her bank account as getting out was hard for herand the understanding that he'd keep an eye on her from a distance.
Enid had been dead for a few hours, but the mortician would get his hands on her before she began serious decomposition. Niall hadn't told her that in the incessantly damp climate of the Pacific Northwest, corpses didn't dry up leatherlike. He didn't tell her that what did happen to them was a whole lot more unpleasant than mummification.
He hoped that if she was opposed to being embalmed she'd have discussed it with her family.
It was with relief that he escaped after a silent goodbye.
As luck would have it, the first person he saw when he arrived at the public safety building that housed the police department was his brother Duncan. Captain Duncan MacLachlan, only one rung below the police chief who was currently under fire for publicly making a racist remark and who was at risk for being fired. Even though Duncan was a hard-ass, he backed his officers and was known for being fair, smart and the soul of integrity. The general hope was that the city council would give the job to him, rather than hiring from outside the department.
Niall had very mixed feelings for his brother.
They were a hell of a lot closer than they'd been even a year ago, though. Duncan had mellowed when he'd fallen in love. Niall had watched the process with be-musement.
Duncan had pushed through the doors on his way out, and the two of them stepped aside so they weren't in the way of traffic. Although barely midmorning, it had to be eighty degrees already. A humid eighty degrees.
"You just getting here?"
"I found my landlady dead."
Duncan nodded without apparent surprise. "What'll that do to your lease?"
Niall grinned. Trust his big brother to hold no sentimental feelings whatsoever. Except where Jane was concerned, of course. Niall shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I'll find out."
Rather than offering another brisk nod and continuing on his way, Duncan kept standing there. He was wearing one of the suits that made him appear more like a politician than a cop, and he had to be looking forward to the air-conditioning in that big SUV he drove. But instead of heading for it, he shifted his weight, hemmed and hawed.
"I was going to call you today," he finally said. Niall was entertained by the unexpected and unnatural sight of Captain MacLachlan looking irresolute. "Yeah?"
"Jane wants you to come to dinner. Tonight or tomorrow?"
"Is there an occasion?"
Expression strangely vulnerable, Duncan met his eyes. "Jane's pregnant."
Niall found himself momentarily speechless. "This a surprise?" he asked at last.
Duncan shook his head. "No. I'm thirty-seven, Jane's thirty-two. We didn't want to wait too long."
"My brother, a daddy." Niall smiled broadly. "Congratulations."
"How far along is she?"
"Three months. She wanted to wait until she was past the danger point before we let people know. You're, uh, the first."
Niall nodded, feeling honored even thoughface itthere wasn't a whole lot of competition here. Jane was alienated entirely from her family, and Niall was the only member of Duncan's who had a relationship with him. Mom had made no effort to stay in touch with any of them, and Duncan had rebuffed Dad's one attempt to reconnect. Conall hadn't spoken to Duncan in close to ten years. That leftta da!Niall.
"I'll be an uncle," he said, disconcerted by the idea.
His brother shared one of his rare grins. "Yeah, you will."
Still smiling, Duncan clapped him on the back.
"I'll tell Jane." With long strides, he headed across the parking lot.
Niall stood where he was, watching him go. Well, damn, he thought, and felt a funny ache inside. He might have labeled it as jealousy, except he didn't want any of what Duncan had.
Still, a baby MacLachlan. Who'd have thunk?
Homicide and major crimes detectives almost never fired a gun outside of the range, where they were required to keep their skills sharp. The telephone and the internet were their tools. They spent a lot of time on hold. They talked. They listened. They pretended to understand and sympathize with scumbags.
Which was probably why Niall was a little slower than he should have been reaching for his Glock.
During a belated lunch break, he had pulled into the bank parking lot with the intention of going in to deposit a check. Before he could get out of the car, his attention was caught by the sight of a guy hustling out of the bank gripping the arm of a woman who was walking really, really close to him. The incongruous part was that with both hands she clutched a black plastic trash bag, stuffed full. Andoh, hellshe looked scared out of her skull.
At the exact same moment Niall's brain clicked into gear, the guy looked at Niall's car which, while unmarked, shouted cop car. Plain maroon, but a big, powerful sedan. Grille behind the driver's seat. Serious radio antenna. Then his eyes met Niall's and he lifted a handgun.
Niall flung open the door and dove out at the exact moment the passenger window exploded.
He snatched his Glock from the holster and groped for his radio. "Shots being fired. Bank robbery in progress," he managed to spit out before stealing a peek over the trunk.
Another shot rang out. Brick chips flew from the wall a few feet from his head.
Damn, damn, damn. The guy had dragged the woman behind a minivan in the lot. He had a hostage, and he was seriously willing to do anything to get away. Including killing a cop.
Niall hadn't taken a shot yet. He wouldn't until he thought he had a good one. God. Even aside from the hostage, there were other people in the parking lot, businesses across the street, passing cars.
Niall swiveled on his heels and saw a woman who had gotten out of her RAV4 standing not fifteen feet away with the keys in her hand, her mouth forming a horrified O. He gestured vehemently, relieved when she gasped and threw herself out of sight around the front of the vehicle. Other people farther away were gaping, too freaking stupid to realize a stray bullet could catch them. A man came running out of the bank yelling, but ducked back when a bullet chipped more bricks inches from him.
Niall's car jumped when another burst of fire found metal. He dropped flat to the pavement so he could see the feet beneath the minivan. Black bag, too. He wondered if the teller had gotten a dye pack in it. He grunted. Man, this was going to be a mess no matter how it played out. The FBI would be all over it, and who wanted to deal with them? Although he wouldn't mind if they showed up right now.
The feet were moving. Toward the rear of the vehicle. So it wasn't the guy's minivan, or the woman's, either. The guy was figuring to bolt for cover behind another car. Make his way to his own, maybe. Time was his enemy. He had to get away before more cops arrived and he got surrounded.
Sirens sounded, but not close.
Niall rose to a crouch and crab-walked forward, rounding the hood of his car. He snatched a quick look, his finger tight on the trigger, and saw that the guy had pushed the woman out into view. She once again clutched the trash bag in front of her as if it were a shield. Niall had never seen such terror on anyone's face. Was she a teller? An unlucky customer?
The guy appeared. Not enough of himhe was using the woman for cover. He took a wild shot to pin Niall down, but it was the back window of the car that imploded. Good. He'd miscalculated which direction Niall would move. Wait.
Niall had never felt so steady, so cool. He was thinking, waiting with extraordinary patience, willing the instant to come when he could kill this bastard without unduly risking the woman.
There. The woman stumbled. Niall pulled the trigger and the Glock jerked in his hand exactly as it did at the gun range. Bang, bang, bang. Blood blossomed; glass on the minivan exploded; the woman fell forward, then, screaming, began to crawl away.
The bank robber was down, broken glass all around him. His handgun skittered away across the pavement from inert fingers. He lay sprawled, unmoving.
Glock held out in the firing position, Niall walked cautiously forward until he stood only feet from the man. There was one hell of a lot of blood. Dead, he thought coldly. His second dead body for the day. At least he'd only killed one of them.
This was also, however, his second shooting resulting in a fatality in the past year. The first was a crazy guy who'd intended to slit Jane's throat. Niall had gotten there ahead of Duncan, so he'd been the one to take the shot. He'd as soon this didn't become a habit, he reflected, in that weird way a mind worked at a moment like this.
Sirens rose to a crescendo. Police cars slammed to a halt blocking both exits from the bank parking lot. Officers leaped out and took cover. A lot of weapons were drawn on Niall.