Trouble on Tap(6)

By: Avery Flynn



What he wouldn’t give for a Humvee and night-vision goggles. Even on high speed, windshield wipers couldn’t keep up. The police-department-issued SUV’s tires hydroplaned every time he ran over a puddle. Worse still, he had two miles of twists and turns to traverse before he hit the straightaway into Salvation, Virginia.

“Out-fucking-standing,” Mateo grumbled.

His headlights reflected off an abandoned yellow car half a click ahead. The tail end stuck out onto the roadway, forcing anyone driving by to slow down.

His heart clogged his throat, expanding until he couldn’t take in any air.

An explosion of lightning lit up the area, showing the rugged Afghanistan countryside instead of Salvation County’s lush rolling hills.

Mateo blinked and the raindrops turned into blood splattering against the windshield.

The thunder became an IED explosion, a roar louder than anything he’d ever heard before, followed by a deafening silence.

His team was dead, their bodies torn apart by the blast, and it was all his fault. If he’d followed protocol instead of his gut reaction, Ferrante and the rest of them would still be alive.

A high-pitched whine jerked him back into the present time and location. The scroungy mutt he’d picked up as a favor to his sister, the Salvation Humane Society director, cowered in the passenger seat.

“Just a car stuck in a storm. Nothing to worry about, dog.” He reached over and scratched behind the pup’s floppy ear, the action calming his nerves as much as the dog’s, and slowed down to take a closer look at the car as they passed. “Looks like somebody ran into trouble.”

The headlights were on. He couldn’t see any damage from his angle. Stuffing his jangling nerves into a dark hole, he turned on the cherry tops and pulled the SUV over.

Shining his searchlight at the vehicle, he couldn’t see any movement or sign of anyone inside.

He grabbed the in-dash radio. “Dispatch, I’ve got an eleven-ninety-six on Highway 28.”

“I thought you were off tonight, Chief.” The Salvation Police Department’s lone night dispatcher, Simons, could be heard loud and clear over the static.

“Affirmative.”

“No rest for the weary, I see.” Simons easily fell into the informal rhythm of small-town policing. “Need backup?”

“That’s a negative. Looks like they got stuck and abandoned it.” With front tires deep enough in the mud he could only see the top part of the hubcap. How did that even happen? Idiot drivers.

Lightning bounced across the dark sky and the dog whined. “Sounds like you got backup already. Is that the dog from the kill shelter?”

“Affirmative.”

“Dog” wouldn’t have been the first word he’d have used to describe the skittish, forty-pound ball of matted fur. Mateo’s scarred reflection in the rearview mirror snuck into his peripheral vision and he averted his gaze. Not that he had room to talk.

“Be sure to bring him by tomorrow.” Simons sighed. ‘My granddaughter is dying for a dog.”

Mateo nodded. “Ten-four.”

He replaced the radio and leveled an assessing look at the yellow Fiat. The rain had tapered off to merely an annoyance. Pushing open the door, he grabbed his flashlight, holding it close to the base, and stepped out onto the rain-drenched pavement.

Cold spring rain snaked its way down his neck and under his black T-shirt as he approached the car. It was just an abandoned vehicle, not a potential IED, but the double-fisted death grip on his gut didn’t abate. Knowing and knowing were two very different things. He tried the handle—locked—and shined his light through the window. The car was empty except for three bright-blue suitcases covered from wheels to handles with some fancy designer logos.

Figures.

He pointed the flashlight up what used to be a dirt driveway and now looked like a good excuse to go mud skiing. Well, that explained how the car got stuck. No way were those tiny tires getting any traction.

Still, he couldn’t leave the car’s ass out in the road. Another vehicle coming around the bend could easily clip the Fiat’s fender and spin out.

Time to break out the hitch and the four-wheel drive. Of course, he needed to make contact with the vehicle owner first.

He pivoted to return to his SUV and his flashlight illuminated the mailbox next to the driveway. Written in bold black letters across the side was a single word.

Sweet.

The Sweet triplets were nothing but trouble wrapped up in bodies built for sin, with smart mouths and quick brains. They’d provided more private torment for men of a certain age in Salvation than there were days in the year. The older two had been in town for months now. Miranda drove a Lexus. Natalie had some fuel-efficient subcompact.

Mateo glanced back at the yellow Fiat with the fancy luggage in the back.

That left Olivia. Just her name was enough to recall the smoothness of her skin, the taste of her kiss…and the look on her face when he’d turned down her offer for a more permanent relationship rather than just a long, hard fuck in a fancy hotel room when their paths crossed.

Now the last woman he’d touched was going to see the beast he’d become.

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