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Be with Me

Maya Banks

  To Jennifer M: You were the impetus for this

  book in so many ways. Thanks for everything!

  To the Writeminded Readers Group: You guys

  are the best. Truly the best readers in the world.

  To every reader who has ever taken the time to

  e-mail me after reading one of my books: I

  appreciate it more than I can ever say.

  To Amy, Steph, Larissa and Jaci: This wouldn’t

  be nearly as much fun without you ladies.


  Regina pulled her police cruiser to a halt outside the dilapidated old farmhouse and radioed her twenty. The house was draped in darkness despite someone reporting lights in the abandoned place. Her gaze swept the area, but she detected no movement.

  She opened the door and stepped into the night. An uneasy sensation gripped her stomach, and not questioning her instincts, she requested backup. She stood in the open door, one hand resting on the top of the car, the other resting on the stock of her gun. Jeremy was just five minutes away and was already en route to her location.

  A high-pitched scream shattered the stillness. Regina grabbed her weapon and broke into a run. She stopped at the front door, gun held high, and pressed her ear to the wood, straining to hear what she could. Only the buzz of locusts and the cacophony of tree frogs echoed through the night.

  Gritting her teeth, she stepped back, gripped the stock in one hand and threw open the door with her other.

  She swept the room with her pistol but saw no sign of the woman who had screamed. Her heart racing, she slid along the wall, her ears and eyes straining for noise, movement.

  She almost tripped over the body.

  Keeping her gaze up, she slowly knelt, reaching down with her left hand to feel for a pulse. The body was still warm, but there was no pulse. Her hand came away sticky with blood. Son of a bitch. She had moved her hand to her radio to call it in when she sensed another presence. Before she could react, her head exploded in pain.

  Her gun went flying in one direction, and she sailed in the other. She landed in a heap several feet away, sucking air into her bruised lungs like a fish out of water. Holy hell, what had hit her?

  She scrambled to her knees and lunged for her gun. A large boot connected with her jaw, and she did a complete roll in the air, landing again on her side.

  Fighting unconsciousness, she shook out the cobwebs and lashed out with her foot. She heard a soft grunt and knew she’d connected with his kneecap.

  Fire swept over her scalp when a beefy hand grabbed her hair and yanked her up. Fingers wrapped around her left wrist and twisted cruelly. She cried out and once again found herself flying through the air. She hit the wall and slid down like a deflated balloon.

  Where the fuck are you, Jeremy?

  Another blow to her head made the world go hazy around her. She opened her eyes to see the blurred face of a man leering close. His hand closed around her neck, squeezing slowly, drawing out the moment of her death.

  “I’ve been waiting for you, Reggie love. It’s time to make him pay.”

  The voice sounded like a hiss in her ear. Sinister. Full of dark promise.

  “Make who pay?” she croaked.

  He laughed softly, and spots filled her vision. In the distance she heard a car. The fingers tightened around her neck. He was too late. Jeremy hadn’t gotten there in time. Goddamn it, she didn’t want to die.

  Drawing on the short adrenaline burst, she jabbed her fingers into her attacker’s eyes and rammed her knee into his balls. He grunted, and his hold loosened just as she heard Jeremy’s shout.

  Suddenly she was free, but she was fighting to remain conscious. She slumped to the floor. A moment later, Jeremy was over her, shouting into his radio and running his hands over her body all at the same time.

  “Regina, damn it, don’t you dare die on me.”

  “Get him,” she rasped. “Out the back. He went out the back.”

  “I’m not leaving you,” he said grimly.

  “Don’t let him fucking get away. I’m okay. He killed her. Go get him.”

  Jeremy swore and got to his feet. She heard the pounding of his footsteps as he ran out the back door, and she lay there, fear, relief and pain rushing through her veins.

  Soon, the pain took over, and the room further dimmed around her, causing her a moment of panic. She fought, but couldn’t manage to keep the veil of darkness from falling.

  This shit wasn’t supposed to happen in her pissant town, damn it.

  Cam Douglas studied the building plans in front of him with the niggling feeling that something was off. He frowned in irritation as the television grew louder, and Sawyer and Hutch gave a whoop when Houston scored.

  He dropped his pencil and glared at his two partners. “Don’t you have TVs in your offices? Is there a reason you’re watching the game in mine when I’m trying to work?”

  Neither paid much attention. They were glued to the game. Cam cleared his throat. Hutch held up a placating hand.

  “You have the flat screen. Looks much better in hi-def too.”

  Cam shook his head. “Does the word deadline have any meaning? If I don’t get these plans completed by tomorrow, we’re going to lose this deal.”

  Sawyer turned around with a frown. “They giving you a problem, Cam?” He walked toward the desk then leaned over Cam’s shoulder. “Looks okay to me.”

  Cam shook his head. “Something’s off. It just doesn’t look right.”

  Hutch sidled over, a Coke in his hand, and Cam stared pointedly at it. He remembered all too well what had happened the last time Hutch got close to his desk with a drink. Hutch ignored him and concentrated on the house plans.

  “It’s the windows in front,” Hutch said. He paused and took a long swallow from the can. Then he pointed to the row of windows on the left side of the front door. Cam’s gaze followed Hutch’s finger, and even before Hutch spoke, Cam saw what he was getting at.

  “The symmetry is off. You’ve got the left side loaded down with nothing to balance the right. Looks lopsided.”

  “Freak,” Sawyer muttered.

  “The freak is right,” Cam allowed with a sigh. “Goddamn, Hutch. How do you do that every time? I sit here poring over this shit and then you come along and nail it in two seconds.”

  Hutch shrugged. “I don’t obsess like you do?”

  “Someone has to,” Cam pointed out.

  Sawyer rolled his eyes. “Don’t get Mr. Perfectionist started, Hutch. He’ll never shut the fuck up.”

  Cam had opened his mouth to retort when the phone rang. He flipped his middle finger at Sawyer as he picked up the receiver.

  “Douglas,” he said shortly.

  “Cam, is that you?”

  Birdie’s voice bled over the line. It sounded shaky. Not at all like her usual perky self.

  “Yes, Birdie, it’s me. What’s wrong?” he demanded as he waved frantically at the others to turn down the TV so he could hear.

  Sawyer and Hutch snapped to attention when he said Birdie’s name. Hutch aimed the remote at the TV to turn it off, and Cam punched the speaker button so they could all hear.

  “It’s Regina,” Birdie said. “She’s been hurt.”

  “Reggie? What’s wrong with Reggie?” Sawyer broke in.

  There was a pause. “Sawyer? Is Hutch there too?”

  “Yes, Birdie. We’re all here. Cam has you on speakerphone,” Hutch replied. “Tell us about Reggie. What’s happened?”

  “She’s in the hospital,” Birdie said in a tired voice. “That’s where I am now.”

  Fear flooded through Cam. He glanced up at Sawyer and Hutch to see a similar reaction in them. “We’ll be there in an hour,” he said shortly. “Hang tight. We’re on our way.”
  “You be careful, young man,” Birdie said, her voice sounding stronger as she admonished her brood. “It takes longer than an hour to get here from Houston, and don’t think I won’t be timing you. The last thing I need is for you boys to end up in the hospital with Regina.”

  “We’ll be careful,” Hutch said. “Birdie? Is she all right?” Cam could hear the worry in his voice, almost as though he’d been afraid to ask.

  “She’s fine.” Birdie’s voice softened. “Or she will be. She was pretty beat up when they brought her in, but she’ll be okay in a few days.”

  “Beat up?” There was an edge of steel to Sawyer’s voice. “Who the hell beat her up?”

  “I’ve got to go,” Birdie said hurriedly. “She’s waking up.” There was a long pause. “She doesn’t know I’m calling you.”

  The line went dead.

  Cam curled his fingers into tight fists and sat back in his chair.

  “Let’s go,” Hutch said shortly.

  Sawyer’s face was set in stone. “She didn’t want Birdie to call us.”

  Hutch gave him an I don’t give a fuck look.

  Sawyer turned to Cam even as he stood to go. “How long are we going to wait? How long are we going to let her get away with pushing us as far away as she can manage?”

  Hutch crossed his arms over his chest, and Cam eyed both him and Sawyer. “We don’t. Not anymore.”

  Hutch grinned, and Sawyer nodded in satisfaction.

  “Let’s go get our girl, then,” Hutch said.


  When Regina opened her eyes, she groaned and slammed them shut again. There wasn’t an inch of her body that wasn’t screaming like a girl. She heard the murmur of voices and cracked open an eyelid to see who was there.

  Birdie. Regina smiled then winced. Damn, even smiling hurt. Her gaze skirted over to where Jeremy stood with his wife, Michelle.

  “Where’s the kiddo?” she croaked out.

  Relief echoed in Jeremy’s expression. “Jake and Ellie have him. How do you feel, Regina?”

  He and Michelle moved closer to the bed, and Michelle gave her a sympathetic smile.

  “Do I look that bad?” Regina asked.

  Before Michelle could answer, a cool hand fluttered across Regina’s forehead.

  “Birdie,” Regina whispered. “I’m sorry to have worried you, but I’m so glad you’re here.”

  The older woman smiled and bent down to kiss Regina’s cheek. “As if I’d be anywhere else.”

  “You’ve been here all night, haven’t you?” Regina frowned. “For that matter, how long have I been here?” She looked up at Jeremy as more of what happened came back. “Did you get him? And damn, why does it sound like I’ve got a horde of frogs in my throat?”

  Jeremy grimaced. “One thing at a time, okay, girl? No, I didn’t get him. But we will. And you sound like shit because he tried to choke you after beating the hell out of you.” His eyes glittered with anger.

  His wife put a reassuring hand on his arm and squeezed.

  Another thought hit her, and panic gripped her throat. “My gun, Jeremy. He knocked it out of my hand.”

  “It’s all right. We recovered it on scene. It’s being processed, so you’ll have to do without it for a few days. Not like you’ll be coming back to work tomorrow anyway.”

  She grimaced. No, she wouldn’t be back tomorrow, but if she had anything to say about it, she wouldn’t be laid up for very long. She glanced up at Jeremy and his wife. He looked haggard, and he probably had better things to do than sit here and babysit her ass.

  “I’m fine now, so you two should go home. I appreciate you coming, though,” Regina said.

  “Are you sure you don’t want us to stay?” Michelle asked.

  “You two go on,” Birdie interjected. “I’ll be staying with her no matter how much she fusses about it.”

  Jeremy nodded then stared hard at Regina. “We’ll get him.”

  Regina nodded and regretted moving her head when the room swam in her vision. A few moments later, she heard the door shut, and she slowly turned her head so that Birdie was in her sight.

  “How bad is it?” she asked.

  Birdie let out a soft hmmpph. “It’s not good, but you’ll live. Half the department has been by to see you. The other half has phoned. I finally had to turn the ringer off so it wouldn’t disturb you.”

  “What happened? I don’t remember much.”

  Birdie sighed. “I think your department is hoping you can fill them in on what happened. Jeremy said he responded to your request for backup and found you inside the house with a man’s fingers wrapped around your throat.”

  Regina raised her hand to her neck and rubbed lightly as she remembered the hand that had squeezed.

  “Do you hurt?” Birdie asked. Her face softened in sympathy. “I can call the nurse and get you something for pain. The doctor said you’re pretty banged up.”

  Regina looked down and, for the first time, registered that she had a brace on her left wrist. She grimaced as she raised it to view the damage. “Is it broken?” she asked, hoping to hell it wasn’t.

  Birdie shook her head. “The ligaments in your wrist are strained, and the doctor wants you to nurse it properly until it heals. They were concerned you’d broken some ribs so they took X-rays.”

  “So when can I get out?”

  “You’ll stay put, young lady. Don’t get any ideas about moving too quick.”

  Regina sagged onto her pillow. Another day or so in bed sounded pretty good, not that she’d admit that to Birdie. A sudden thought occurred to her, and she turned her head to look at Birdie. “You didn’t call my parents, did you?”

  Birdie sighed. “No, of course not. I know you wouldn’t want that.”

  She didn’t quite meet Regina’s gaze, though, and that worried Regina. She eyed Birdie suspiciously, and then her face tightened in alarm. “Birdie, you didn’t.”

  Birdie frowned. “I didn’t what?”

  “You didn’t call them. You wouldn’t.”

  Birdie sighed in exasperation. “What are you talking about, Regina?”

  Regina groaned. “You did, didn’t you? You called them.”

  Birdie pursed her lips and leaned forward in her chair. “When are you going to stop running from them, Regina? From yourself?”

  “That’s a damn good question, Birdie.”

  The low drawl sent a flutter of excitement through Regina’s stomach. She ventured a look at the doorway to see Cam, Hutch and Sawyer standing there in various poses. Cam had his arms crossed over his chest, Hutch had his hands shoved into his jeans pocket and Sawyer leaned indolently against the door, watching her.