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Bound (Mastered #1)(7)

By:Lorelei James

"Yes, and we'll need Officer Gomez to accompany you."

Molly looked up from her desk. "Nothing missing or out of place on my side."

"Thank god."

Amery led Officer Gomez through the rear door that led from her office into the small back area with a steel door that led into the alley. A circular staircase dominated the space and opened up into the second-floor loft apartment where she lived. In true loft fashion the only room walled off was the bathroom. This was the first place that was completely hers, and it put an extra twist in her gut to imagine her safe haven had been violated.

But nothing had been disturbed in her oversized bedroom, or the large eat-in kitchen, or the great room with the funky windows that overlooked the street.

"Anything missing or destroyed, Ms. Hardwick?" Officer Gomez asked.

"No. I can't even blame the mess on the counters on anyone but myself."

The female cop smiled. "I can relate. I'm relieved this wasn't a B and E, but I will offer you some advice." She pointed to the businesses across the street with the drop-down steel cages covering the storefronts. "Those might be ugly, but they are effective; those cages do deter crime. And it's an especially smart add-on since you're a single woman living alone above your business. I'd also suggest you install a heftier door with a dead bolt between your business area and your living space. Once that's done, have the alarm company add a trigger to that door, so if someone does get in from the business side, it'll alert you."

"Thank you so much. I appreciate your advice."

The cops didn't stick around after that.

Amery and Molly sat in their office chairs facing the gaping hole.

"I can't believe it," Molly said.

"Me either." As grateful as Amery was that nothing had been stolen, she worried about how much the repairs would run. Yes, she had insurance, but she'd have out-of-pocket expenses. She was running a much smaller profit so far this year and had been cutting corners and pinching pennies everywhere she could. 

The window replacement company arrived and off-loaded pieces of plywood.

As they heard hammers banging, saws going, and an electric drill screeching, Molly said, "Amery, you're awful quiet. Are you really okay?"

"No. I'm wired. There's no way I'll be able to sleep tonight. Especially not when all that'll be separating me from the street is a sheet of plywood." Amery offered Molly a wan smile. "I'll probably be all caught up on my backlog of filing and stuff by the time you get here tomorrow."

Molly frowned. "Get here? Where do you think I'm going?"

"Home where you belong." Where it's safe.

"Huh-uh. I'm staying right here with you."

"I'll be-"

"No, you aren't fine. Which is why I will be right there, on that couch. I'm used to pulling all-nighters. So suck it up and grab me a pillow."

"Man, I didn't know you had such a bossy streak," Amery grumbled.

"And I never would've thought you'd be so antagonistic toward a man who could probably kill you with a look," Molly retorted. "So it looks like we're both full of surprises."

"Let's hope we done with all surprises-good or bad-for the rest of the night."


GROGGY from lack of sleep, Amery released a little scream the next morning when her best buddy, Chaz, enveloped her in a gigantic bear hug from behind. "Girl, I'd ask how you're doing but the scream pretty much gave it away."

"You surprised me," she said defensively. "Can you blame me for being a little shaken?"

"No." Then Chaz curled his hands around her biceps and helped her to her feet, demanding, "Why didn't you call me last night?"

"Because I didn't want to freak you out. There wasn't anything you could've done anyway."

"Except be there for you. That's what friends do for each other, hon."

"Chewing her out after the fact won't make her feel better," Emmylou intoned dryly from the doorway that separated their two businesses.

"Did she call you and your lesbian Mafia connections for help?" Chaz asked snottily.

"They could protect her better than that gay brotherhood you hang around with," she shot back.

Although their jabs were meant in good fun, given her mood, her two best pals would drive her crazy with their dicks-versus-chicks bickering.

"I stayed with her," Molly piped in. "Which is why I'm still wearing the same clothes that I had on yesterday." She scowled. "Not that Amery let me do anything but sleep on the couch down here while she made sure no one tried to get in."

"Just knowing you were here eased my mind." Amery had managed to tie up a few projects during the wee small hours, keeping a wary eye on the big chunk of plywood where her front window used to be. She hadn't needed caffeine either; adrenaline had kept her up all night. But now? Talk about exhausted. She was dangerously close to face-planting if she didn't keep the liquid energy flowing, so she poured herself another cup of coffee.