Her Last Goodbye Page 2

Lines deepened around Lance’s mouth as he lifted his gaze from the scar to Morgan’s face. There was more between them than a professional relationship. How much more was yet to be determined. He was the first man who had tempted her since her soldier husband had been killed in Iraq two years before. But with three young children, making time for a man was a challenge on a good day. And over the past few weeks, Morgan’s eighty-five-year-old grandfather had been increasingly unsteady. Extra doctor appointments, tests, and worry were taxing Morgan beyond the normal level of crazy that was her life.

She touched Lance’s thick forearm. She’d meant the contact to be reassuring, but the arm under her hand was tense. Who knew a forearm could be so masculine?

“I’ll be watching,” he said, grim-faced.

“I didn’t doubt it for a second.” She gripped the door handle.

“Give me a minute to get into position.” Reaching under his flannel shirt, Lance checked the weapon at the back of his hip then got out of the vehicle.

Morgan wiped her damp palms on her jeans, took three deep breaths, and stepped out onto the pavement. Carrying the brownie tray, she walked toward number seventy-seven.

Lance crouched behind a shrub at the house next door. Peering through the foliage, he’d have a clear view of her on the doorstep.

She carried the brownies down the sidewalk and up the driveway. Climbing two concrete steps to the front stoop, she rang the doorbell. After a solid minute of silence, she raised the brass door knocker and rapped three times. For another thirty seconds, no one responded.

But she could feel someone watching her.

Footsteps sounded on the other side of the door. A few more seconds passed. Morgan imagined him looking through the peephole. She held her breath while the person on the other side of the door debated. Then the dead bolt slid with the quiet snick of metal on metal, and the door cracked with a soft squeak of its hinges.

Tyler peered through the opening. Barefoot, he wore jeans and a white undershirt very well. The photo in his file hadn’t done him justice. His six-feet-plus frame was fit and lean, and he was good-looking in a scruffy, bad-boy way. The arrogant smirk on his face said he knew it. His gaze traveled from Morgan’s face to her feet and back up again. He opened the door all the way, stepped into the doorway, and leaned lazily on the jamb.

“Who are you?” he asked her breasts. He dragged his eyeballs back to her face.

“I’m Morgan.” She smiled, ignoring the giant ick in her belly.

“Hel-lo, Morgan.” Staring at her mouth, he licked his lips, slowly, deliberately.

Slimily.

Was that a word?

“Who are you?” she asked.

He leered. “Whoever you want me to be.”

What. A. Sleeze.

She tilted her head as if she wasn’t very bright and didn’t understand.

He grinned. “I’m Patty’s cousin, Tyler.”

“Oh. Great. These are for Patty and the kids.” She held out the tray of brownies and smiled wider. She batted her eyelashes a few times, a clichéd but effective maneuver.

“Oh. OK.” He took the tray in both hands.

Morgan pulled an envelope from her coat and set it on top of the brownies. “This is for you.”

“What the fuck?” His body tensed. The leer slid off his face, and anger twisted his features.

Morgan stepped away, not willing to turn her back on him. But Tyler moved faster than she expected, his posture shifting from lazy to lightning in an instant.

He tossed the brownies into a bush and lunged forward. His hand closed around her throat, the pressure on her windpipe forcing her onto her toes. Morgan grabbed his wrist with both hands to break his hold. Gasping, fighting panic, she tried to peel his fingers off her neck.

But his grip was an iron collar. He was taller and stronger and furious.

“You fucking bitch. How dare you trick me.” Tyler pulled her closer. “You can tell my ex-wife if I see her again, I’ll kill her. That ungrateful slut won’t get a nickel from me.”

Stars blinked in front of Morgan’s eyes as his grip around her neck tightened.

Chapter Three

Morgan!

Lance dug his feet into the grass and sprinted toward the man who held Morgan by the neck. She twitched like a rag doll, rising onto her toes. His vision tunneled down to the two bodies on the stoop. Fury added fuel to his legs.

If Tyler Green hurt her . . .

He watched as Morgan raised one arm over her head and spun in a quarter turn. She windmilled her arm forward and used the inside of her shoulder to break Tyler’s grip on her neck. Then she drove the back of her elbow into his face. His head snapped back. Blood spurted. His hands went to cup his mouth and nose just as Lance hit him with a midbody tackle.

Lance and Tyler rolled in a tangle of limbs on the front lawn, coming to a stop with Lance on top. Flat on his back on the ground, Tyler swung out with a wild and weak punch. Lance swatted the fist out of the way like he would a gnat.

In the end, there wasn’t much of a struggle. Tyler acted tough when he was attacking women but didn’t know what to do with an opponent his own size. He was also bleeding profusely, and Lance wasn’t at all ashamed to enjoy the sight. Tyler was a bully and a coward.

Lance rolled Tyler onto his face, pulled his arms behind him, and planted a knee in the small of his back.

Leaning close to the deadbeat’s head, Lance said, “You wife beaters have one thing in common. You can’t fight someone who fights back.”

“Bitches all stick together,” Tyler spat over his shoulder.

“She kicked your ass.” Lance glanced at Morgan. “Nice shot.”

Morgan was on her knees, one hand on her neck; the other held her cell phone. Lance assumed she was calling 911. After giving the dispatcher the address, she slid the phone back into her pocket, sat on her heels, and wheezed, “The police are on the way.”

“Get off me,” Tyler screamed into the grass.

Lance shook his head and shifted a little more weight onto his knee. The air—and the fight—went out of Tyler like a deflated tire.

“You just assaulted a lawyer, dumbass,” Lance said. “She’s going to put your sorry butt in jail.”

With Tyler immobilized, Lance turned to Morgan. “Are you all right?”

She rubbed the base of her neck and swallowed. “Yes.”

“You sure handled him.” Lance massaged the achy spot on his thigh where a bullet had ended his police career the year before. The wound had healed as well as it was going to, but his sudden sprint had pulled at the scar tissue.

Morgan climbed to her feet and brushed off her knees.

Five minutes later, a sheriff’s department cruiser arrived, and a deputy got out. Scarlet Falls was a small town. Its modest police force frequently relied on the county sheriff or state police for backup.

She showed the deputy the legal paperwork and summarized the incident.

The deputy handcuffed Tyler and hauled him to his feet. Blood smeared his face and soaked the front of his white T-shirt. The deputy loaded Tyler into the back of the cruiser and took brief statements from Lance and Morgan.

“I’ll need you to sign formal statements.” He nodded at Morgan. “I’ll want pictures of those bruises too, but first I need to take him to the ER.”

The deputy drove off.

Lance was quiet as they went back to the Jeep, but the residue of anger and worry rolled through his body as he steered her to the vehicle and opened the passenger door.

Turning to face him, she placed a palm in the center of his chest. “I’m all right, Lance.”

He lifted her chin and swept her hair aside to examine her neck. “I’m sure you’re hurting worse than you’ll admit.”

Red patches were already forming on her pale skin.

“Bruises heal,” she said.

“That doesn’t mean I like to see them on your lovely neck.” As long as they worked together, Lance was going to want to protect her. Though she was tall, a slim frame and delicate features made her look almost dainty. Even with her attempt to dress casually, she was perfectly feminine, with little glittery earrings and black hair that shone like a shampoo model’s.

But he’d keep his inner guard dog on a tight leash. She was no helpless female, even if her ability to defend herself always took him by surprise.

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