Alesha froze as the shots rang out. Matt fell to the ground, the red stain on his chest spreading as the life seeped out of him. Ronnie pressed his coat to Matt’s chest to stem the blood flow, but to no avail. The color was swiftly draining from the young man’s face.
Alesha crawled across the pavement to where Matt lay. Tears blurred her vision as she clutched his hand tightly in both of her own.
“Stay with us, Matt,” she ordered, her voice cracking. “Don’t you dare die on us.”
Matt managed a weak smile, but black fingers were beginning to creep in his field of vision.
“Stay with us,” Alesha continued franticly. “We need you. I need you. I love you, Matt.”
Matt coughed, blood staining his lips red in contrast to his pale skin. He turned his head towards Alesha and he smiled.
“I love you, too,” he breathed.
And then he breathed his last.
Alesha broke into sobs, clutching him tightly. Ronnie let his own tears fall, unable to believe his young partner was dead. There had to be some mistake. Matt had too much life to be dead, too much spirit, too much heart.
The sirens were drawing near when movement below them drew their attention. Their confusion at seeing the color return to Matt’s face was only compounded when he opened his eyes.
“Oh, bugger,” he said, taking in his friends’ faces. He grimaced and pushed them back enough so that he could sit up.
“Matt, you just died,” Ronnie said.
“Matt, what’s going on?” Alesha asked, shocked as he got to his feet.
Matt leveled his gaze at the two of them, “I promise I’ll explain later, but right now, I need what just happened to stay between us.”
“You had a bullet-proof vest on,” Ronnie shrugged, willing to say whatever Matt asked.
“What about the blood?” Alesha asked, scrambling to mentally catch up with the other two.
“Synthetic,” Ronnie suggested, his mind working quickly to fill in he blanks. “You thought there might be an attempt after a guilty verdict, so you wore a bullet-proof vest with packets of synthetic blood attached to convince a shooter he’d made a hit.”
“That’ll work,” Matt said, looking around. “Wait, where’s Kaden?”
Ronnie looked around the sidewalk and realized that the boy was no longer there. He was pretty sure he had been uninjured, but all thoughts of the star witness went out the window when Matt had been shot. Now, he was nowhere to be seen.
“Perfect,” Ronnie muttered.
Things were definitely not turning out as planned.
Matt was glad that he kept a clean set of clothes at the office as he pulled his bloodied shirt away from his body. The places where two bullets had pierced his torso less than an hour before were completely healed. The lack of scarring was slightly disconcerting. Not so much because it wasn’t the first time, but because he had been shot in front of his friends, leaving him with only two options: reveal his biggest secret or leave.
Neither option was extremely enticing, but he wasn’t ready to end this life, yet. Matt Devlin had only been around for a few years, and besides, he really didn’t want to walk away from Ronnie and Alesha. That left coming clean.
Any discussion was going to have to wait, however. Natalie was out for blood after Ellis’ men had gunned Matt down, and Jake was right behind her. Matt had to admit he was touched by the Crown Prosecutor’s concern. He didn’t get along with Thorne quite as well as he had James Steele—of course, he had also known Steele longer—but he had a feeling that would change.
The sound of approaching voices drew Matt out of his reverie, and he quickly shoved the bloody shirt to the bottom of the duffle and slipped on a clean tee shirt. As the voices neared, he recognized one as Natalie, and she was not happy about something.
“I’m only doing as I was told, Detective Chandler,” said the new voice. “I have no say in the matter, and neither do you.”
The end of the sentence was punctuated by the two entering the locker room. Natalie looked three shades shy of livid, and it didn’t take a detective to tell that her fury was directed at the man who entered in front of her.
“DS Devlin, I’ll be investigating the shooting that occurred in front of the courthouse, earlier.”
“You mean, when I got shot. Twice,” Matt tried to keep the snarl from his voice, but he tended to get a little testy when he’d been shot.
“You’re lucky you had the foresight to put on a bullet-proof vest before going to the courthouse.”
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Matt asked, getting tired of the run-around.
“Matt, this is Sam Casey. He’s been put in charge of tracking down the shooter,” Natalie said, still seething but trying to diffuse the situation.
“I was the one shot!” Matt protested. “I think I get the right to bring in my would-be murderer. At least let Ronnie hunt the bastard down.”
“I’m sorry, Matt, but this came from above me.”
Natalie seemed almost apologetic, now, and that served to sap some of the anger out of Matt. He glared at Casey, but logic managed to seep through to his brain. It made sense to have someone unrelated on the case to avoid any possibility of a mistrial born from a conflict of interests.
“Find him,” he growled before grabbing the duffle and pushing past and out of the locker room.
He went up to the office to grab his things from his desk. If he wasn’t going to be involved, he needed to get out of town for a few days. If he stayed around, he wouldn’t be able to stay out of trouble. Besides, reviving tended to scramble his head, and he needed to regroup.
Ronnie saw him walk in and made a bee-line for him. His concern when Matt began gathering his things from his desk did not go unnoticed.
“I take it you met Casey,” Ronnie supposed.
“It was pretty obvious he wanted me to stay out of his way, and the best way to do that is if I’m not here,” Matt said, zipping the bag closed. “Look, I’m gonna head out of town for a bit. Don’t worry, I’ll keep my mobile.”
“Matty,” Ronnie began, glancing around and lowering his voice, “I’m not gonna try to understand what happened out there, earlier. To be honest, I’m not sure if I wanna know. But whatever it is, you’re still my best friend. That will never change.”
Matt sighed, and he knew then what he would do. He grabbed a scrap of paper off his desk and quickly scribbled down an address.
“Tomorrow night, seven o’clock, you and Alesha meet me there.”
Ronnie took the paper and nodded, glad that whatever it was, Matt was willing to let them in.
Matt returned to his apartment and sat heavily on his couch. This day was so not going the way he had planned. He was supposed to be sharing cigars with Ronnie, celebrating the birth of his grandchild, not recovering from reviving and retreating to his place in the country.
His cat, Echo, walked up and rubbed against his leg, and he couldn’t help but chuckle. It seemed some things didn’t change. Running his hand down the Echo’s back, he stood and went back to his bedroom and gathered what few things he would need. After making a call, he placed Echo in a carrier and proceeded to lock up his apartment. He wasn’t sure how long he would be gone, but he did know he was coming back.
A three hour drive out of the city ended up at an estate in Surrey, Donwell Abbey. It was a palatial home for his standards, far grander than anything he would ordinarily choose for himself, but it was holy ground and a safe haven. He had acquired the home many years ago from a baronet who didn’t want his gambling son to inherit.
“Welcome back, sir,” greeted the butler.
Gerald Baker had spent the majority of his adult life working for Matt. Ninety-five percent of the time, Gerald and his wife, Rose—who had inherited the role of housekeeper from her mother—had the run of the house. Matt was only there for at most a couple weeks out of the year.
Matt sighed and handed Gerald his coat, “Good to be back. Listen, tell Rose I need to talk to her. Ronnie and Alesha are coming tomorrow.”
“So, you are going to tell them,” Gerald surmised.
“Yeah, kinda have to after getting shot in front of them, earlier.”
Gerald nodded, knowing full well what kind of shock lay in store for his boss’ friends.