Waking up on a pile of rocks with a bullet in his shoulder isn’t something Joe Brady saw coming, but perhaps the cute paramedic who finds him can do more than just help heal his wound.
Detective Joe Brady wakes up lying at the bottom of a cliff on a pile of rocks with a blond-haired angel hovering over him. No, he’s not in heaven. The blond is Riley Peterson, and his dog Champ is the one responsible for finding Joe. Fortunately for Joe, Riley is a paramedic and quickly gets him the emergency attention he sorely needs.
Shot by his rogue partner Bob Murdoch when Joe discovered Murdoch was running a protection racket for drug pushers, Joe wants to find Murdoch and bring him to justice, but he’s got a long road to recovery in front of him. While Joe is recuperating, Murdoch is arrested, giving Joe time to get to know Riley, the handsome paramedic. The two quickly bond, but Riley has an ex-boyfriend who wants back in Riley’s life and certainly has no qualms about playing dirty to get what he wants.
Slashed tires, an assault in a parking lot, and a prison break all seem set to doom Joe and Riley’s budding relationship. And when the deranged Murdoch determines to make them pay for his fall from grace—at gunpoint—it seems their relationship isn’t the only thing in danger…
Reader advisory: This book contains themes of stalking and harassment. There are references to abusive parenting and an abusive relationship, attempted murder and murder and on-page violence.
General Release Date: 2nd April 2019
Orange County, California
Detective Joe Brady stared at the man holding the gun leveled at his chest and sighed. “Bob, what’re you doing? Apart from kissing your career goodbye, that is.” He gestured at the guy lying on the ground between them. “You’re gonna shoot me to protect this kid? So, like, everything he told me is the truth?”
“Seems like.” His partner, Bob Murdoch, echoed Joe’s sigh. “You just couldn’t keep your nose out of it, could you? Had to go snooping around, asking questions.”
“That’s my job,” Joe said quietly. “And yours, or it used to be.”
The kid on the ground tried to struggle to his feet but went down again under Joe’s well-planted foot. “Stay down,” Joe growled. “You’re not a part of this conversation.”
“There is no conversation, Joe.” Bob tightened his finger on the trigger of his Glock. “Sorry, partner… Get up, Martin,” he snarled at the young man at his feet. “Go get the car started.”
Martin jumped to his feet and stared from one cop to the other. “You’re not really going to kill him, are you?”
He looked scared. Stupid kid, Joe thought. How in hell do they get mixed up in this kind of shit?
“You didn’t say anything about killing a cop, Bob.” Martin’s voice quavered. “That’s a life sentence. I don’t want no part of it.”
“You are a part of it!” Bob’s face darkened. “Now get in the car or I’ll shoot you, too. You’ve fucked this up royally—”
Joe saw his chance and took it. Martin’s jittering had put him between Bob and himself. He planted his foot hard on Martin’s ass and sent him barreling into Bob, who yelled out a curse and flung the young man away—or tried to. But Martin was holding Bob by the shoulders to prevent another collision with the ground and the two men staggered back, giving Joe enough time to wade in. He grabbed Martin by the scruff of his neck and pushed him out of the way, then rounded on his partner. Wild-eyed, Bob bounced back a few steps, his gun trained on Joe’s chest.
What the fuck, he’s gonna shoot anyway… He threw himself at Bob, taking him down just as his partner’s gun went off.
A searing pain lanced through his body and his last thought before he blacked out was, Who’s gonna walk Barney?
* * * *
What’s that smell?
Whatever it was, it stung his nose and the back of his throat. Where in hell was he and why was he lying in total darkness in this space way too small for his six-one, hundred and ninety-pound frame?
The bumping and rattling all around him made him become aware he was in something that was moving. The trunk of a car! Shit. He shifted slightly and almost cried out from the pain that shot through his shoulder. Oh, yeah… Fucker Bob Murdoch had shot him and now where the hell was he taking him?
He figured Bob and that creepy kid, Martin, hadn’t wanted to leave him out in the open in that parking lot off El Toro Boulevard. He bet they were going to dump him in some bushes where he wouldn’t be found for some time.
They must think I’m dead or they’d have tied me up. The way the car was rocking and rolling made him think they had to be going over some pretty rough terrain. Where in hell can this be? Down on the coast maybe? But most of the beach areas, Laguna or Newport, were pretty much landscaped and manicured…so where? The car came to a grinding halt, like it had run into something. The engine was cut off, doors opened and slammed, then the sound of voices only feet away.
“This should do.” Bob’s growl was unmistakable. “No one’ll find him here for a long time… Maybe never.”
The trunk was flung open and Martin, his voice quivering, mumbled, “Oh, my God, I still can’t believe you killed him. How’re you gonna explain this when he doesn’t show up at the precinct?”
“I already told you I don’t have to explain anything. We weren’t scheduled for duty tonight. If I hadn’t figured out he was on to you and followed him, he’d still be alive. Goddamn idiot had to stick his nose where he shouldn’t.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” Martin whined.
“No? Next time don’t go offering blow to a cop. Not that there’ll be a next time.”
“Right. I’ll be more careful.”
Bob’s chuckle was anything but humor-filled. “Right. Okay. Let’s get him outta there, and don’t drop him.”
Joe knew it was going to hurt like hell when they started to haul him out of the trunk, and it did. It took all his strength of will not to groan as he was clumsily manhandled out of the trunk then dropped onto the hard ground.
“Fuck! I told you not to let him go.”
“Come on. We’ll just drag him to the edge and roll him over.”
Christ…what are they doing? Again, it took all his willpower not to start struggling. He knew, what with the way his shoulder felt and the blood he’d already lost, he was no match for a man carrying a gun. Bob would just shoot him again, most likely in the head this time. If they were throwing him in the ocean, he might just have a better chance at survival. Survival and the soul-satisfying knowledge that he could still put this dirty cop away.
“It’s so dark,” Martin whispered.
Good. Makes it less likely they’ll notice I’m not dead…yet. Depends on where they’re throwing me.
“Okay,” Bob grunted. “That’s far enough. Roll him over the edge.”
Instinctively, Joe tensed for the drop, however long it might be. It wasn’t far and it wasn’t water. The impact of his head and body hitting rocks jarred every bone inside him. As he lay there in exquisite pain, the sound of a gunshot nearby reverberated through the night air. Small rocks and stones fell all around him, a heavy object landed on the ground next to him, then just before the darkness took him he was dimly aware of something thudding against his body.
* * * *
“Champ! Here, boy, come back, don’t want you running way into those rocks.” Riley Peterson knew there was no need for the extra words. The golden retriever running ahead of him slowed at the sound of his voice, then, tail wagging, stood patiently waiting for him to catch up.
“Good boy.” Riley knelt and rubbed the dog’s ears, laughing as a very wet tongue scoured his face. “Cut it out. I know where that tongue’s been!” Still laughing, he let Champ knock him over and the two wrestled on the sand. “Okay, okay, that’s enough.” He managed to stand, pulled a rubber ball from his shorts pocket and threw it toward the water.
He sat and watched while Champ gamboled in the waves, tossing and chasing the ball and having the time of his life. Riley smiled and curled his arms around his knees, loving the warmth of the sun on his face and bare shoulders. Moving to Laguna had been the best decision he’d made after Miles had left him, along with a note.
Met someone else, take care of yourself and Champ. He never liked me anyway. Miles.
He’d taken his clothes and personal belongings while Riley was at work and had never come back to the apartment they’d shared for two years. Riley never had found out who the ‘someone else’ was, though a mutual friend had told him he thought it was a guy Miles had met at a real estate sales convention in Portland.
Whatever—he hadn’t heard another word from the rat, and after a year on his own he decided he liked it better that way. He’d made some new friends and the two or three in L.A. who still cared came to visit him in Laguna once in a while. All in all, life was good. If only he hadn’t made some of those stupid, too-easy-to-make mistakes— like letting Miles Harper into his life. The last few months they’d been together had been their own private little hell as far as Riley was concerned.
Miles had always been a control freak, which in the beginning hadn’t bothered Riley that much. He knew that sometimes he had trouble making decisions—silly ones really, like what to order in a restaurant when they went out for dinner, or what kind of wine to have. Miles would hiss with impatience, temper flaring to the surface, and tell him what he was going to have. A year and a half into their relationship that had gotten older than old, but his protests had been met with eye-rolls and disdain, sometimes even in front of their friends. Nevertheless, the sting of rejection had lingered long after Miles’ departure, that and the determination not to be so easily fooled again. Really, wasn’t life simpler on his own?
Okay, enough of that. He stood and swiped the sand off his bottom, took a long swig from his water bottle then called out to Champ, “Let’s go, boy!” Champ ran toward him, ball grasped in his mouth, which he dutifully dropped at Riley’s feet. “Think you’ve tired yourself out? Let’s go home.”
They set off toward the steep steps that led to the clifftop when, without warning, Champ veered away, running at a large group of rocks cordoned off and displaying a sign saying Keep Out. Dangerous Rock Slide Area.
He must have seen a rabbit or a squirrel. The parkland at the top of the cliffs teemed with the little critters and they’d often find their way down onto the beach.
Champ had disappeared and Riley sighed with impatience. “Champ!” The dog whined and barked. What the hell? He ran to the rocks and climbed over the makeshift rope fence. “Champ, what is it, boy?” He squeezed between two of the larger rocks, and froze. “Jesus…”
There were two bodies, both men, one lying on his back, the other face down. As a paramedic, Riley was used to seeing bodies—some dead, some unconscious—and from the looks of things, the younger of the two was most definitely dead. The back of his head was gone, and despite the fresh salty air, the smell of death permeated the narrow space.
He knelt by the other man and felt his neck for a pulse. It was there, but weak. How long has he been lying there? He pulled his cell phone from his shorts and punched in the number for his field station. “Hey, Val,” he said as soon as the operator answered, “Riley. I’m on the beach near the steps that lead up to Cliffside Drive. There’re two guys here, one dead, one badly injured.” He eased the unconscious man’s jacket away from his chest. “It appears as if he’s been shot just under his right shoulder. Lost a lot of blood by the looks of it. Need a team here right away.”
“I’m on it. We’ll have the guys there in a few.”
“Thanks.” He shut his phone off and slipped it back into his shorts pocket. He touched the man’s bruised face gently. “Hey, buddy, can you hear me?”
The man groaned. His eyes fluttered open and Riley’s breath hitched in his chest. Pale gray eyes gazed at him from under thick, dark eyelashes.
“Am I dead?” His voice was thick and croaky.
“Not yet.” Riley popped the top of his water bottle and held it to the man’s cracked lips. “You’re super-dehydrated. Sip a little of this. Not too much at first—that’s good…” He opened the man’s jacket further and felt around for any other injuries. “You know what happened?”
“I was shot, then I think they must’ve thrown me over a cliff or somethin’. Jeez, I hurt all over.”
“I bet. Don’t try to move. The medics are on their way. Who’s the other guy?”
“Other guy?” He moved his head just enough to take a look. “Son-of-a-bitch. That’s one of them. What are you doing?” he asked as Riley unbuttoned his shirt.
“Checking for injuries.” He couldn’t help but notice how fit the guy was. He pressed with care on the sides of the man’s muscular torso. Wow… And that is totally inappropriate, Riley, get a grip, he berated himself with a mental slap. “Sorry,” he said when the man winced, “but fortunately it looks like just some massive bruising. I don’t feel any broken ribs.” He ran his hands over the man’s legs. “Nothing broken there, either, by the looks of it.”
“Feels like every fucking thing is broken.”
“Have some more water.” He waited until the man had sipped some more then asked, “What’s your name?”
“Brady, Joe… I’m a detective. The other guy’s Martin Boyd. Is he dead?”
“Yes. A friend of yours?”
“No way. Drug runner. I was arresting him when this happened.” He squinted up at Riley. “You’re kinda cute. All that blond hair. I thought you were an angel. What’s your name?”
Riley chuckled. “Riley Peterson. I’m a medic, and this here’s Champ. He found you.”
Joe closed his eyes. His head throbbed, every part of him feeling as if he’d been run over by a Mach truck, and had he really just told this guy he was cute and babbled on about him looking like an angel? Jesus Christ, I must be delirious. Better, though, than the dream, or hallucination maybe, he’d had about his father yelling at him, calling him useless and a disgrace.
He tried to force that memory out of his mind. “I have a dog too,” he said, gazing at the medic’s very attractive face. “Barney.”
“Yeah, but I’m worried about him not getting out.”
“Oh, is there someone I can call who can let him out?”
A pounding noise on the nearby steps had Riley jumping to his feet. “That’ll be the team. Let them help you, then we’ll get you to the hospital.”
“I have to call my super, let him know what happened.”
Riley stood aside as the medics pushed into the narrow space between the rocks and the cliffside.
“Cops are on their way,” one of them, who seemed to be in charge, said.
“He’s a cop,” Riley told the guy. “Detective Brady.”
“You check his ID?”
“No sign of any.”
“Fucker took everything after he shot me,” Joe mumbled. He shuddered as a wave of nausea overtook him. He heard one of the medics say, “He’s going into shock,” before he passed out again.
There was no room for the gurney in the narrow space so Riley assisted in lifting the detective’s body out and onto the beach, where they could get him secured and attach a morphine line to his arm. Martin Boyd’s body was left among the rocks for the coroner to examine.
“Riley, you coming with?” Brett Oakley, the team leader, called to him. “The cops will need a statement from you.”
“Oh, right. I have to take Champ home first and get a shirt. I’ll meet you at the ER.”
“Okay, but make it snappy.”
Despite telling himself earlier that he’d been inappropriate ogling the detective’s body while he’d been lying there in pain, Riley couldn’t help but recall that Detective Joe was hot-looking. Dark brown hair, cut short, those beautiful gray eyes when he’d opened them, a full mouth…
Totally my type…and he thinks I’m cute. Of course, that could’ve been shock or slight delirium. People had a tendency to say weird things when they were going in and out of consciousness, but he’d bet not too many Orange County cops ran around telling other guys they were cute.
He gave himself a shake. “C’mon, Champ, home.” He set off toward the steps that led to the clifftop, Champ bounding at his side.
He had to go make a statement at the hospital. Maybe he’d see the detective there. In fact, he’d make a point of it. Just to say hi, of course.