Chapter 21

The first hour, Tom and Doug drove around in silence. Tom had a million things on his mind. The image of Amy dying in front of him wouldn't stop playing inside his head. Then, he'd remember her tombstone and the unwavering belief that she died too young and too soon. Cops always lived with the knowledge of limited mortality. Yet, even with that knowledge came the hope of making it to retirement. He had that hope for Judy and so much more.

"Why didn't she just wait for me?" he muttered under his breath. His grip on the steering wheel tightened. His stomach muscles clenched. This slow agony of the unknown burned like acid inside him.

"You know how Judy is," Doug said.

Tom jumped. He'd forgotten that Doug was with him.

"Yeah, I'm still here."

"Yeah." Tom relaxed his grip and willed himself to relax.

"This driving around is getting us nowhere."

"What else can we do?" Tom snapped. "I can't stay at the chapel doing nothing. You didn't have to come."

"Yeah, I did." Doug shifted on the seat and stretched his legs.

"I could have gotten past Fuller."

"I didn't come because of Fuller," Doug explained. "I came because of Judy and because of you."

A strong wave of guilt threatened to wash over him, but Tom ducked. He didn't want to deal with that stuff now. He and Judy fell for each other. They didn't plan it. It just happened. He wouldn't take on Penhall's feelings of betrayal now. It wasn't fair.

"Look, Doug, maybe this wasn't a good idea. I can take you back to the chapel or drop you off at home or wherever."

"I'm not leaving."

Tom stared straight ahead. The street stretched on for miles. There were quite a few intersections along the way. Any of the intersecting streets could lead him to Judy. But which one? His life had been a lot like this street. It droned on until he and Judy attended the Cirque du Soleil together. One random event changed the course of his life. On a whim, he turned left at the following traffic light.

"Where are we going?" Doug asked.

"Owen's uncle has some property near the waterfront. Maybe we'll find something."

"Let's stop and call Fuller. He could send some guys down to help us out."

Tom pulled into a service station. While Doug left to use the payphone, Tom waited inside the Mustang. His foot gunned the engine several times. He was antsy to leave. The feeling that Judy was close hit him and wouldn't let up. When Doug returned, Tom put the Mustang in drive and fired off toward the water.

- - -

Judy worked her wrists until the ties loosened. The pounding of footsteps faded away from the cabin. She couldn't be sure if Owen and Trish were leaving. Not wanting to risk it, she hurriedly freed her arms and legs.

With darkness surrounding her, she lost the ability to gauge time. She could have been gone for a few hours or half a day. When the kids grabbed her, they took her personal effects, including her watch and weapon. She couldn't begin to imagine what their ultimate goal was, and she had no intention of sticking around to find out.

After awhile, her eyes adjusted to the dark. She found the door and quietly ascended the stairs to reach it. Holding herself still, she listened for noises on the deck. Nothing alarmed her. She decided to go for it and tried the knob. The damned thing was locked.

"Shit," she muttered under her breath.

There had to be another way out. She glanced around at the portholes. All of them were too small for her to squeeze through.

"Come on, girl. Think!"

Suddenly a loud thud shook the boat. Judy scrambled back to her seat. She silently begged for time to drape the rope around her ankles. Her hands shook from the effort of being quiet and quick. Then, the door creaked open and it was too late.

The glaring beam of a flashlight swam around the room before finally landing on her. She cringed from the light and just barely resisted the urge to shield her eyes with her hand. Her captors had to think she was still tied. Maybe they wouldn't notice her legs were free.

She squinted and tilted her head to peer behind the light. The figure was unrecognizable. It just kept coming toward her.

"Who is that?" she asked. Her voice sounded raw and harsh. She was tired of being at someone else's mercy. She wanted out. "Who are you?"

The light beam drifted from her and swirled around the room until it returned to the face of the person holding it. She reared back in surprise. It wasn't Owen or Trish.

"Dirk? Dirk Artman?" she asked. He'd been one of the suspects in the gambling ring. Tom always said that he got strange vibes from Dirk. She didn't know what to think. Hadn't he been arrested, too?

"Yeah. Well, actually, my real name is Dennis Booker," he said. He lowered the flashlight to the floor. "We have to get you out of here. I'm not sure how long we have before Daniels and his girlfriend comes back."

"You're not helping them?" she asked. He reached behind her and she reared back. "What's your stake in this?"

"I'm trying to help you."

"Why?"

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He beamed the light onto a federal badge. "I'm a cop, too. Trust me now?"

"I guess." She kicked off the ropes at her ankles and stood. "Let's go."

"You're free?" he asked. Shock came through in his voice.

"I'm not a damsel in a distress who waits for the cowboy to rescue her," she said, heading toward the stairs. "I can rescue myself."

"I can see that." He followed her to the top deck. "There's a diner on the other side of the parking lot. They took off that way."

"Well, come on." Judy hurried off the boat. She ran down the dock toward dry ground. Dennis was fast on her heels.

"Wait." He caught her arm.

"For what? Those kids are armed and dangerous," she said. "We have to bring them in."

"Did they take your sidearm?"

"Yeah, butó"

"I'm calling for backup. In the meantime, we'll watch them from my car."

"Fine. Let's get it done. It's not safe for them to be on the streets."

- - -

"Unbelievable!" Tom swerved into an alley beside a diner.

"What's up?"

"Owen and Trish are in there." Tom turned off his car and climbed out of the driver seat.

Doug vaulted over the hood, landing on the sidewalk in front of Tom. "We can't just run in there. Witnesses said the kid had a gun. We can't risk anyone getting hurt."

Tom's jaw tightened. Rage boiled like hot oil inside his veins. His hand closed around the butt of his gun. "They don't know you. Get them to come out here."

"How?"

"Judy's life is at stake. Does it really matter how?"

Doug shook his head. "Just wait here."

"I'm not going anywhere. Hurry up and get them out here."

- - -

Judy clenched her hands into fists as she waited for Dennis to start his car. She was exhausted and mad. Those two sensations didn't work well together. Besides, she knew Tom was worried. If he didn't hear from her soon, she feared his reaction. His state after Amy's death was never far from her mind. He blamed himself for that and Judy had no doubt he'd blame himself for what had happened to her, too.

"Are you warm enough?" Dennis adjusted the thermostat inside his Grand Am. "I have a jacket in the back."

"I'm fine." She opened the vents in her direction. The influx of heat warmed her tense muscles. As she relaxed against the seat, she glanced at him. "You were undercover, too."

"Yeah," Dennis said. "I wasn't sure about you and Hanson until the night of the party."

"Who were you after?"

"Owen's uncle. My superiors have been watching him for years, but they could never pin anything on him. Then, two local cops come in and nail him." Dennis released a short laugh. "I'm lucky I still have a job. You and your partner kicked my butt."

"We didn't even know about you," she said. "How did you find me?"

"I heard about your abduction. The Special Agent in Charge put me back on the case. We have a list of all of Ned Daniel's properties. He often uses boats as his place of residence and for fast getaways. I got lucky with this one. When I saw Trish and Owen, I knew this was it."

"Why do you think they wanted me?"

"Revenge ? Leverage?"

His answers surprised her. Well, revenge was understandable. But leverage? The DA would never drop the charges against them or Ned Daniels just because of her abduction. Those kids didn't have a clue.

The Grand Am stopped across the street from the diner. Just then, a loud commotion came from the alley. She peered past Dennis and recognized a blue Ford Mustang.

"Hanson!" She bolted from the Grand Am and raced across the street.

Tom lunged for Owen. Doug caught him around the waist.

"Where is she, you bastard!" Tom shouted. "What did you do to her?"

"Tom!" She grabbed his arm. "I'm right here. I'm okay."

Doug slowly released him and stepped aside. Tom closed his arms around her. The force of his embrace left her breathless.

"I'm okay," she whispered, reassuring both of them. "I'm okay."

- - -

Hours later, Tom held Judy close within the circle of his arms. They hadn't made love, yet, but once the novelty of simply holding each other wore off, Tom planned an irresistible seduction.

"Tell me again they didn't hurt you," he said. His fingers traced the goosebumps that cropped along her arms. He relished her body's response to him. Further evidence of how good they were together.

"They didn't hurt me. Honest." She rested her chin on his chest and smiled at him. "How many more times will you ask me? Has it sunk in, yet? I'm okay."

"It's sinking in." He bent forward and kissed her forehead. "I have to remember you can take care of yourself. Booker told me you're not a damsel in distress. I hate that he found you. It should have been me."

"You were close." She kissed his cheek. "Don't be jealous, Hanson."

"I can't help it. He had this look in his eye when he looked at you. Then, he went on and on about how tough you are and what a good cop you are. When he mumbled something about you being hot, I wanted to break his nose," Tom confided. "If Penhall hadn't been there, I would have."

His confession led to a fit of giggles. She laughed so hard, the bed shook. Her laughter cured any wounds to his pride.

"I'm glad the thought of Dennis Booker with a broken nose makes you happy."

"I'm not laughing because of Dennis. It's you who makes me happy." She traced her finger along his bottom lip. "Don't you forget it."

Her words touched him, but he had to be sure. "We can do this, Judy."

She nodded. "I'm past denial. Life is too short."

"Yes, it is." He framed her face between his hands. Once their gazes locked, he said, "I love you. Another second couldn't pass without you knowing that. Don't be surprised if I say it often."

"I hope you do." Her hands covered his. "I love you, too."

Soon after, Tom put his plans of seduction into action. To his passionate joy, Judy offered little resistance and eagerly surrendered to his charms.

The End

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