Saving poughkeepsie, p.12
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       Saving Poughkeepsie, p.12
 

           Debra Anastasia

  Beckett didn’t bother responding, just folded his arms and leaned on the warm hood of his car with Eve. It was freezing outside.

  McHugh rubbed his temples. “Listen, I’ll just get to it. What I need to know is if you’re buying up properties to help Vitullo move in here. I know there continues to be something going on with the two of you.”

  Morales looked only at Eve.

  Beckett would have a long discussion with her at home about what sorts of things she was sharing. He gave her the side eye, silently asking What the fuck?

  She widened her eyes in anger. She responded just as silently, Seriously? Do you think this is amateur hour?

  “I am investing in the area,” Beckett said, meeting McHugh’s gaze. “But not on anyone else’s behalf, and that’s not against the law.” He turned to give Morales a hard look.

  He smiled widely.

  “Son, you need to understand that every step you take in this town is because I allow it. You’re not a law-abiding citizen, no matter how you think you’re acting. You’re a criminal and a murderer. I deal with you only as it benefits me and my town. So do not act like a goddamn punk. We’re both too old for that shit.” McHugh assumed a very authoritative stance.

  Beckett knew the conversation they were about to have was a necessary one. It had to happen. But he was pissed that it had to be now, when he was still freaking glowing from one of the best family experiences in his life. It had been storybook bullshit this morning. He’d loved it. Only thing missing had been a baby in Eve’s arms.

  Beckett gave an exasperated sigh. “Sir, my brothers live here, married to your daughters, having their kids. I’m in Poughkeepsie to ensure their safety as best I can. They’re my family. And Rodolfo Vitullo remains a wild card. That’s not a secret. As I’m sure you know, he was behind the recent abduction attempt on Eve, and he’s expressed interest in illegal trafficking through this town. We don’t want his kind here, and we don’t need it, so I’m doing my best to find a way to neutralize that threat. Cole and Blake won’t leave—or at least they don’t want to—so my only choice is to make this a place they can stay. But I’m trying to do it differently than I would have in the past.”

  McHugh shook his head. “What did you drag my town into?”

  “You were already headed down the drain. Since Mary Ellen Vitullo stirred things up, their sights have been on the back of your head. The shadier side of Vitullo Weapons wants this place, especially now that Sevan Harmon seems to have faded from the scene. They want to open up his trade lines using the river and the train, as well as the roads. If they get their way, there won’t be a business or a cop that doesn’t belong to them. You won’t get anybody convicted for shit. They’re bigger than me and into weapons and drugs on such a level—we’re not even a crumb of shit on their shoes.”

  McHugh folded his arms. “I can’t help but think you being here is a bad thing. Like tying up a dying goat to bring a hungry bear around.”

  “I’m taking them apart from the inside,” Beckett countered. “The old man and I have been in touch, and he knows I’m not interested in working with him. But I’m going to strengthen our walls by winning the loyalty of his men. It’s the only thing I’ve found that gives me an advantage. You’ll also see me scooping up prostitutes, druggies from rehab, and homeless people, and giving them a break. I’m getting skid row to become our eyes and ears.” Beckett kicked a rock. It sounded even less badass out loud than it did in his head.

  Morales scoffed.

  Beckett narrowed his eyes at the cop.

  “You’re delusional,” he added.

  “I don’t know what the hell you were up to for the last five years or so, but you have no idea what’s going on. You’re scary,” McHugh said while looking toward the sky.

  “He does know what he’s doing,” Eve interjected, breaking her silence. “I’ve known men to take a bullet for him. None of Vitullo’s men care about anything but the money in their pockets right now, but Beckett can make them understand that they aren’t dispensable. On top of that, what he’s leaving in his wake will improve this place, give people at the bottom a chance. I think it’s a great idea. And it’s worth trying. What’s your plan, McHugh, if Vitullo wants your town?”

  She’d hardly moved, but Beckett could see that having her on his side benefited him in the cops’ eyes.

  “I’d approach it as I do anything.” He looked her dead in the face. “By the book, following the laws we have.”

  “And that’s exactly what makes Rodolfo so successful. He assumes good men have good morals. And in this case he’d be right. He expects you to take down Beckett, and while you’re doing so, he’ll buy his way to the courts and set the policy as he sees fit. Does he expect you two to work together? Hell no. Does he anticipate your department and Taylor’s defense to align? Never. Just like he’ll never see that we’re taking his guys by treating them like humans instead of just manpower. Is it perfect? Of course not. I think we should all just pack up and leave—let the assholes fight it out. But Beckett refuses to move your daughters if they want to stay. And this town is home for all of us. He’ll change the way everything has ever been done to keep them safe and in the home they know.”

  She pushed off of the car. “Beckett has enough money to be gone. He doesn’t have to be here. But he is. He does things for a lot of the same reasons you do.”

  The men were quiet as her rationale found its mark.

  “Let it be a two-way street,” she continued. “Open the lines of communication with us. We’ll make sure you know if anyone gets an offer they can’t refuse. You send us the people you think need a boost up in the vicious fucking cycle of being poor, or even just misunderstood. I know this: if we don’t work together, we’ll both fail. And there’s too much on the line for all of us.”

  Beckett slid his gaze to her profile. She was so smart, and persuasive, and right. She’d said it far better than he would have. This mess could only benefit from estrogen.

  McHugh shook his head. “I got to think about this. I don’t want to get in bed with him.” He pointed at Beckett with his pinkie.

  Beckett bit his lips. “You take your time, grandpa. The longer you wait, the deeper Rodolfo’s claws sink into your throat.”

  McHugh nodded at Morales. “Merry Christmas, Morales. You good? I’m leaving.”

  “I’m good, boss. Merry to you and yours.” Morales slid his sunglasses to the top of his head as they all watched McHugh leave.

  “Well, that was awesome.” Beckett rubbed his hand over his face. McHugh was a man stuck in the old ways.

  “He’ll come around.” Eve shrugged.

  “You read minds now?” Morales tried flirting with her right in front of him.

  “You are testing my last goddamn nerve, Morales.” Beckett smiled so his dimples would show.

  “Your song and dance is filled with hot air. Now you’re the freaking president of the Poughkeepsie Peace Corps? I don’t believe it. I think it’s shit and full of lies.” Morales inhaled and puffed up his chest.

  Eve stepped into his personal space. “Do you think I’m a liar?”

  Beckett watched as the cop deflated a bit. “I didn’t say that.”

  “Well, I’m in this with him. And I’m letting you be involved here too. Would I base that on lies? Do you think I’m that cavalier with your life? Your job? Merry fucking Christmas, Ryan.” She turned on her heel and headed for the driver’s side door.

  “Wait, Eve. I’m sorry. No, I don’t think you’d lie to me.” He held out his hands in earnestness. “But come on? Really? Druggies are going to somehow be loyal if you give them money? Surely you know they’ll be injecting your funds.”

  She shook her head. “We’re not giving druggies money. We’re going to give people coming out of rehab a chance to be recognized as human beings. They can work at the properties, earn fucking food and a warm place to stay. And that’s what we call a start. Will most of them screw it up? Hell yes. But for the few who
can stick it out, we will have helped them, and they can help restore a property. Then a single mom or someone else who needs it will have a home she can afford. Does it really sound that stupid to you? I thought you were a good guy.” She tapped her booted foot.

  Beckett leaned back on the Challenger and watched his lady chew out the cop.

  “Never confuse me with the good guy,” Morales shot back. “You know far too much about me for that. I didn’t join the force to save the world, remember?” He put his sunglasses on. “But if you’re doing this? I’m all in. Every time. No, I don’t think you’re a liar. I just think this plan has more holes than a county road and he clouds your judgment. Merry Christmas, Eve. Die in a hole, Taylor.” Morales returned to his truck.

  Beckett figured that was not the way Morales had wanted to end things on Christmas, and that left him with a smirk. Eve was furious as she started the car. She gave Beckett an angry glance, and Morales tapped on the window, holding an envelope.

  She rolled it down, but refused to look at him.

  “This is yours,” was all he said before trotting back to the truck.

  Eve slid the envelope between the driver’s side door and her seat.

  “Really? Are you afraid I’m going to look at what the lovesick fool gave you?” Beckett taunted.

  Morales backed up, and Eve was finally able to put the car in gear. She whipped it around like a stunt driver, squealing the tires and passing Morales on a double yellow.

  Beckett said nothing when she responded with silence, but he kind of loved watching her go straight through the red light while holding her middle finger up high enough for Morales to see.

  God, he loved her.

  And if he thought seriously about it, the conversation had actually gone well. He was able to get McHugh to listen to his (okay, Eve’s) explanation, and the man had said he’d think about it. Until he had some concrete results to show, that was about all Beckett could ask anyone to do.

  Eve let up on the gas pedal, because although she was pissed, she didn’t really want to start a war with Ryan.

  Beckett filled the passenger seat with such a presence. She could feel his eyes on her as he slumped down.

  “Did you have a nice Christmas so far?” He was pretending he didn’t want to see what Ryan had given her, so she played the same game.

  “It was great until the sheriff showed up.” She drove to Beckett’s place to drop him off, then she would go see her father. Although leaving him in this mood seemed a bit insane.

  “I still have to go see Dad.” She glanced at him. He chewed on a toothpick.

  “I know. I’ll take G out and be here when you get back.” He winked at her.

  “I don’t like leaving you today, especially after that. Maybe you should come.” She put the blinker on and made her way to his street.

  “Naw, let’s not stress your dad out too much.” He leaned over to give her a kiss as she parked in the driveway.

  She caught his throat as his arm snaked around her waist. “No.” She clenched her fist, red nails pressing against his windpipe.

  He smiled and pushed closer, reaching farther behind her. She adjusted her hip to catch his arm.

  His lips were nearly on hers, the scent of the bourbon tinting his hot breath.

  “Don’t,” she breathed.

  “Don’t what?”

  The hand that wasn’t trapped trailed up her side until it cupped her breast.

  “Try to take the envelope.”

  He bit her bottom lip and held it between his teeth.

  She teased him into kissing her by touching her tongue to his upper lip.

  He deepened the kiss, seeming to forget the original goal of his espionage.

  “How you feeling, killer?”

  “You’re playing with fire, Taylor. And that’s not fair ’cause you know how I like it.” She got a fistful of his pec with her next kiss to let him know she missed him and this crazy, deadly way they played.

  “Don’t like it when I go slow?” Beckett pulled his hand away and held out the envelope he’d snatched.

  “You tramp.” She took it from his hand.

  “Don’t think you know every trick I have, baby. I got ways. You got needs. Let’s meet in the middle.” Beckett put his hands on her face and kissed her gently, temptingly, over and over until she mourned the loss of him as he got out of the car.

  “Tell Pops I said hi. And give me a chance tonight.” He slammed the door and didn’t turn around to wave.

  She sighed. Recovering sucked. Gunshots sucked. And later, she hoped Beckett would suck.

  The drive to her father’s was uncomplicated, and she parked right in front of the apartment building. But before she could get out of the car, Ryan’s truck pulled up behind her. She shook her head. He had a bit of a swagger as he exited his truck, and she had her middle finger pressed against the glass, waiting for him. He tried the handle, and of course it was locked.

  “Come on, Eve.”

  She didn’t look at him, but instead opened the envelope. Inside was a banal Christmas card, signed by Ryan, and pooled at the corner of the card was a gold chain. She pulled it up and found a tiny compass swinging from it. The arrow swung around until it pointed north.

  She unlocked the passenger door, and he walked around to the other side.

  “Jewelry always gets the door unlocked,” he informed her as he sat.

  “Relationship advice? Really?” She almost smiled.

  “Touché. You don’t need to wear it or anything. I just saw it and thought it’d be a good fit.”

  “Thank you. And by the way, are you stalking me, copper?” Eve took the necklace and put it on. Honestly, it was lovely.

  “A little. I know I’m a shit, but you told me you’d be visiting your dad, and I just wanted to spend a few minutes with you. I was at my mom’s all morning.”

  “So I’m guessing you’re not hungry?”

  “I could always eat.” He smiled from ear to ear.

  Her soft spot for this man was a weakness. Part of it had to do with who he was, but the other part was that she liked to see the fire in Beckett’s eyes when he was jealous. It was stupid.

  “Let’s go have some ham, and if Trish shows up, I blame you,” she told him.

  10

  Click

  Ryan knew better. He knew cocker spaniels that knew better. She was so, so not his. She’d said it a million times. She was living with the man she was pledged to.

  But her hair was down today. She wore it that way when she was relaxed, and she tossed it off her shoulder from time to time. If he didn’t see that exact sight in his every daydream, maybe he could stay away. Eve was the worst decision his balls had ever made. As if it was a choice. Damn her eyes, looking around like a seasoned cop, assessing exits.

  He followed her into her father’s building, careful not to hold the door for her. They weren’t dating, and he wanted to be a friend—a friend to keep her safe. A friend for her when Taylor broke her heart, because it was bound to happen. That man was a stick of lit dynamite sitting on top of a propane tank.

  After knocking on her dad’s door twice, she flicked her hair again, and he could see the slender gold chain around her neck as she unlocked the door. It gave him stupid pride to have something on her body that he’d picked out. Damned if Taylor would let her wear it, though. But he wanted to be her true north. Subtle. Or maybe not so at all.

  “Dad?” She entered the apartment shouting. After the first holler, she canvassed the place, always suspicious. Ryan nodded at her eye contact and slipped into the job, clearing each room visually. Neither he nor she pulled their weapons—they weren’t that scared. He spotted a note on the counter in the kitchen.

  “Hey! He’s got a note for you here.” He read it without really meaning to:

  Dear Eve,

  So very sorry but the hospital was short staffed for a car accident.

  The ham is in the oven, just set the temp to 350 for a few minutes.


  Merry Christmas,

  Love Dad

  “Wow. That’s a first,” she said, shaking her head.

  “Whaddya mean?” He felt the oven, and it was still hot. “He must’ve just left.”

  “He’s never missed a Christmas.” She picked up the note and traced the words with her fingers. Disappointment played for a few seconds in her eyes before she shook it off.

  Gladiator.

  “Want me to call the hospital?” He wanted to offer her something.

  “No, I’m good.” She opened and shut various appliances in the kitchen and declared dinner ready.

  They worked together to set a quick table. It reminded him so very much of when she’d spent time at his place. He turned on music with his phone. He knew she hated to hear chewing while eating. A quirk. He wondered if Taylor knew.

  She was quiet as they ate, so he added the color commentary. “Your dad can cook his ass off.”

  She nodded before getting up to go to the fridge. “It wasn’t always that way.” She slapped a beer in front of him and took a long pull of her own before sitting back down. “For the first few years after my mom left, Dad and I ate every meal out. We’d stop for breakfast on the way to school. And he’d either get takeout or delivery for dinner. Then he got some blood work done and hated the results, so that’s when he started to cook. I’d help him, but I sucked then.”

  “You still suck now.” He toasted her with his beer.

  She closed one eye and almost smiled. “One wonky fried egg and I’m the worst?”

  He nodded. “I’ve never seen anyone light an egg on fire.”

  “That pan was defective.” She kicked at him under the table.

  “Yes. That five-year-old pan that cooked my damn eggs every day was defective. It was not operator error. Totally the pan.” He stretched his back and put his hands behind his head.

  “Ungrateful. And how many more times did I make you breakfast after that?” She pushed her plate away.

  “It was only the once. The neighbors are still thanking me for breaking up with you.” He winked. If only.

 
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