The sight was so incongruous in the busy coffee shop that Sam blinked to make sure her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her. But, no. A 9mm Glock was tucked into the back of the man’s jeans and mostly hidden by his tan jacket. Her heart jumped once, then kicked into high gear, pounding hard.
Sam ran her eyes over him, assessing the threat level. Short—maybe as short as her—and almost as wide as he was tall. Not law enforcement, or he’d have the gun in a holster. She could only see him from the back, so she shifted her eyes to his companion. His hair was the same light brown as the guy with the gun, and he had the same stocky build, though his ran more to fat than muscle. Brothers, she guessed.
The two men tried to look inconspicuous, but they hadn’t ordered any coffee before they’d sat down—the second red flag after the gun. The third red flag was the way their eyes kept darting to a tall man in line to order his coffee, impeccably dressed in what she guessed was a tailored suit and a coat that looked like it would cost her a month’s rent.
His profile was strong, the planes of his face sharp, his black hair shining with health, and Sam noticed dispassionately that he was probably handsome.
He was also in danger. If her instincts were right, and they usually were, the two guys with at least one gun between them planned to use it on the tall businessman. Sweat beaded at the back of her neck.
Luckily their target had two bodyguards on either side of him. He expected the threat. So Sam settled back in her chair to watch the proceedings. She didn’t need to get involved, despite the adrenaline flowing through her.
After a minute of covert observation, a sick feeling pooled in her gut. The bodyguards hadn’t even clocked the two men. They stared stoically ahead, trying to look intimidating as a deterrent to any potential attackers. Instead, they looked incompetent and completely unaware of their surroundings. Still, maybe it was for show. Maybe they had seen the men, and were waiting for the two guys to make their move.
She shifted uneasily. She could call the cops—chances were these two didn’t have a concealed carry permit, because those things were damn hard to come by, Sam knew from experience. But she didn’t know what was going on. Those men could, theoretically, be undercover bodyguards. Or even undercover cops waiting to bust the guy for some horrible crime. She didn’t want to blow an operation.
The businessman ordered his coffee and waited as the young barista frothed his milk. The two men at the table were on edge, ready for whatever happened next. The bodyguards were still oblivious.
Sam drained her coffee cup and slowly slipped her book into her bag. She had to be ready.
The coffee was finally made, and the man grabbed it before the barista could even call his name. He gestured to his two bodyguards that he was ready to go, and one led the way from the coffee shop with the other bringing up the rear behind the well-dressed man.
The brothers with the gun immediately stood and followed the trio, so Sam picked up her bag and shuffled after them, remaining inconspicuous. It was just before 9am, so the streets teemed with people rushing to get to work on time. Sam weaved through them, trying not to lose sight of the men ahead of her.
She caught glimpses of the trio even farther ahead of her. The lead bodyguard knew the route without needing any direction from the man he guarded. A bad sign, since it meant they likely took this route often.
Blood zipped through her veins as she stalked these men through the concrete jungle of downtown Portsboro. The three in front came to a crossing as the countdown reached five. The two guys with guns jogged a little to get onto the road before the countdown hit zero, but Sam was too far back. She squeezed past a group of colleagues holding large takeaway coffee cups and stopped as the cars eased forward on the road in front of her. She stood on tiptoes to see the two guys with the gun following the man and his bodyguards around a corner.
Panic hit her. What if they planned to kill or attack this man right now? She had to get to them. She couldn’t bear it if she had a man’s death on her conscience. But the traffic still moved past her—slowly, since it was peak hour. The sharp honk of a horn made her jump.
Too much time had passed. She needed to get across the road.
The traffic slowed enough that Sam risked stepping in front of a taxi. The driver leaned on her horn and yelled something aggressive. Sam held up an apologetic hand but kept going, ignoring the insults the woman yelled. She focused on the road ahead, while the other waiting pedestrians took advantage of the traffic she’d stopped and followed her across in a wave.
She darted across the road and took off at a run—as much as she could with her bad lung and the calf muscle in her right leg that would never fully heal. She ducked through the flow of pedestrians and turned down an alley.
Empty. Sam swallowed. Had she not seen what she thought? She’d been convinced they’d come this way.
She surveyed the alley. Dirty, as most were in this part of the city. A sign indicated parking ahead, but no car could fit through the narrow street, not with all the rubbish strewn about. Unless it was a back entrance?
A coffee cup resting on top of the trash caught her attention. The logo from the coffee shop she’d been in five minutes earlier was emblazoned on its side. They must have come this way.
She strode onward, her ears straining for any sound, her hand itching for a gun that wasn’t there. Her lungs ached, both from her exertion and the added fear of what she might find. The scent of garbage clogged her nostrils and the high walls of the surrounding buildings pressed in on her.
She rounded the corner, and stopped dead when the scene she’d been dreading materialised before her. She absorbed the tableau in an instant. The two brothers each held guns on the tall businessman. He had his hands up in surrender while the two bodyguards shuffled at his sides, doing nothing to protect him. That went beyond incompetence and into sabotage. They should be throwing themselves in front of those guns and instead they looked as if they didn’t want to know.
Fingers tightened on the triggers of the guns.
“Hey!” she said, to draw the gunmen’s attention. They spun around, both so surprised that their guns wobbled in their hands.
Sam took advantage of the inattention and stepped forward, ducking and twisting out of the line of fire. She grabbed the gun hand closest to her—belonging to the heavier brother—and aimed it towards the alley above them and out of danger, and then she swung the man around until he shielded her from his brother.
She kneed him in the balls with all her might, keeping ahold of his gun arm. He crumpled with a grunt of pain, knees not quite hitting the ground before he righted himself. But Sam didn’t let him gain the advantage. An uppercut, an elbow to the temple, a sweep of the leg and the guy sagged to the ground. Sam made sure to prise his fingers off the gun as he fell and immediately aimed it at his brother.
The man was furious, glowering at her as he readjusted the gun so it pointed directly between her eyes.
Sam didn’t flinch.
“You pull that trigger and you’ll go down with me,” she said, edging forward.
A sick smile crossed his face. “Might be worth it to put a bullet in you,” he sneered.
Sam shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been shot.” She shuffled forward again. “Probably won’t be the last.”
The man’s eyes widened in surprise, and he had nothing to say to that.
“Lower your gun,” she ordered.
“You first,” he replied.
She moved forward again. Nearly there.
“Why did you target this man?” Sam ask him as a distraction.
The man’s glower deepened in reply. “He looked rich,” he replied sullenly. Sam didn’t believe him for a second.
She didn’t have time to ask a follow-up question because he gave her an opening. Just a slight moment of inattention, but it was enough. His gaze shifted to her left for an instant. She used the opportunity to get in close and drive her fist into his solar plexus, the shock of hitting his muscled chest sending recoil through her arm. The air rushed from his lungs the moment she connected and he doubled over, so Sam elbowed him in the back of the skull.
He fell to his knees, gasping. She gripped his gun arm and wrenched it behind him, dislocating his shoulder. It popped with an audible crack, and Sam saw her audience flinch from the corner of her eye. She used the pain in the man’s arm to drive him flat onto his stomach and snatched the gun from his grip. She placed a booted foot solidly on his neck and pressed.
“Do you call mercy?” she asked him, not expecting a reply.
A flash of movement caught the corner of her gaze and she looked up as the businessman yelled, “Look out!”
The second attacker rose to his feet and lowered his head like a charging bull, ready to attack.
Sam didn’t need to be told twice.
She aimed the gun in her right hand and fired, grazing the man’s thigh. The report of bullet discharging echoed down the alley, and Sam’s ears rang. The man kept charging as if he hadn’t felt the shot, no doubt consumed by anger and adrenaline.
She fired again, this time hitting him in his right shoulder. The bullet had enough force to send him staggering backwards. He glared at her, still furious, not noticing the blood blooming at his shoulder.
“Stay back,” she said. “You don’t want the next one to go between your eyes.”
Some reason must have penetrated his fury-filled mind, because his gaze finally moved from her to his brother.
“You’re choking him,” he growled.
“He’s fine,” Sam replied, but eased off a little. “Now, have a seat, and wait for the cops to arrive.” She kept her gun trained on him as he reluctantly lowered himself to the ground.
Sam turned to the targeted man. He stared at her with something like awe. Sam shifted uncomfortably at the admiration in his gaze. The man was even more handsome straight on than he had been in profile. Sharp cheekbones, artful stubble, piercing grey eyes. Maybe he was a model. It would explain the nice clothing.
“The police are coming, right?” she asked him.
He held up his phone. “Yeah.”
“Good. Would you mind using your tie to bind this guy’s wrists?” she asked, gesturing with her gun towards the sitting guy.
She ignored the two bodyguards while keeping them in her sight. Nothing worse than a bad bodyguard—it gave the rest of them a bad name.
The man undid his tie with a practiced movement and stepped gingerly toward his attacker. They glowered at each other for a moment before Mr. Well-Dressed stepped behind him and looped the tie around his wrists.
“I’m Cameron, by the way. Cameron Lawrence,” said the businessman.
“Uh-huh,” Sam replied. She wasn’t particularly interested. She wanted to wrap this up so she could get to work.
Sirens sounded in the distance.
“And you are?” he asked pointedly. Sam resisted rolling her eyes.
“Sam,” she replied. Let him think it stood for Samantha. Everyone else did. Her real name was Angelica Samson, but no one called her that if they wanted to live.
“Well, Sam, thank you for saving my life.” He stood and slowly prowled towards her. Sam’s hackles raised. A man that prowled was a man on the hunt. And she definitely wasn’t prey.
“You’re welcome,” she muttered. “Hot tip, though. You might want to get better bodyguards. These guys suck at pretty much every aspect of the job.”
“Hey!” cried one of the bodyguards in protest. Neither she nor the businessman paid any attention.
His eyes darkened. “If you’re angling for a job, I’d be more than happy to offer it to you. You’ve amply demonstrated your skill.”
Sam raised a brow at him, annoyed by his presumption. “I already have a job, but thanks.”
“Well, the offer is open.” He handed her a card, which Sam was tempted not to take. Instead, she tugged it from his grip and pocketed it without looking at it.
She didn’t have to offer another brush-off because the police chose that moment to arrive.
Cameron gave her a last, lingering look before heading over to the police. Sam breathed a sigh of relief. As much as she wished otherwise, she had an awful feeling she wasn’t done with that man yet. Or, worse, he wasn’t done with her.